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Valley medical team launches heart disease study using genetic testing

Thanks to Dignity Health in the Valley, genetic testing can be used to determine who's at risk for heart issues.

PHOENIX — The numbers are staggering. 

Every year more than 800,000 people have a heart attack across the U.S. and of those, more than 600,000 are a first cardiac event, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But what if people could know ahead of time if a heart attack was on the horizon?

That’s now a possibility, using genetic testing to determine who’s at risk of developing heart disease, thanks to Dignity Health in the Valley.

After a bout with heat exhaustion over the summer and a visit to the cardiologist, Soilo Felix was asked to be a part of a groundbreaking Dignity Health study centered around combating heart disease.

“It was a great opportunity to learn a little bit more, but also contribute to the knowledge base for healthcare professionals,” he said.

His wife Amy Felix realized this would be helpful to get in on.

“I had previously had an issue a couple of years back, but I was cleared, but I still wanted to know, what does my DNA say," Amy Felix said.

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The new research study is the first of its kind in North America.

“To screen for people who are at high genetic risk for heart disease... that means we can roll in early prevention,” said Dr. Robert Roberts, medical director of cardiovascular genomics for Dignity Health.

Roberts said the risk for heart disease is about 50% acquired and 50% genetic.

The study is comprised of 2,000 men and women between the ages of 40 and 60, who have no known history of heart disease.

Using Felix's DNA from a blood test and pre-existing genetic markers known to cause heart disease, the team at Dignity Health will determine whether they are at risk of heart issues in the future.

“The whole process to sign up took about 10 minutes for both of us and from there they sent it off to the lab,” Amy Felix said.

For those whose results end up showing an elevated risk of heart disease, they can make an appointment to discuss preventative treatment options.

“Our results came back as intermediary risks,” Soilo Felix said.

The study provides helpful information, for those who want to know advanced details of their health. If proven effective in clinical trials, this form of genetic testing may be adopted globally to prevent heart disease.

“We’re making little changes…what we’re eating, not a lot of fried food and red meat," Amy Felix said. "We want to be here for the long run."

For more information on the study and how you could be a part of it, call 602-406-1156. The blood test and counseling are free.

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