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Newcastle professor behind blood pressure breakthrough

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A Newcastle-based researcher has discovered a way of predicting a disease that affects one in three Australian adults. 

Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) and University of Newcastle academic Professor Murray Cairns figured out how to use a person’s individual genetics to determine the success of high blood pressure treatments in lowering sodium in the body. 

HMRI and University of Newcastle academic Professor Murray Cairns.

The breakthrough could save the Australian Government billions of dollars and countless lives. 

“High blood pressure – or hypertension related disease – kills up to 20% of people,” Professor Cairns says. 

“At least 30 % of the adult population has it – that’s one in three Australian adults – and only 30% of those people get it under control. 

“A 25% reduction in the prevalence of hypertension could save the Australian Government $34 billion per year.” 

The work by Professor Cairns and his Precision team is being hailed as “breakthrough”. 

With 80% of people ending up with some form of chronic disease, and 20% with two or more, genetic insights driving precision medicine could have a massive impact on global health.   

“The way people respond to drugs is different. We can measure an individual’s genetic risk of developing high blood pressure with respect to the physiological systems responsible – including kidneys, heart or smooth muscle – and then target medications accurately,” says Professor Cairns.   

Some hypertension medications work to lower sodium – and subsequently blood volume – in the body.

Professor Cairns says that while many people have a genetic predisposition to high blood pressure that is triggered or exacerbated by a high salt modern diet, they will respond well to treatment that reduces sodium.

He also states that for some people, salt is not a significant factor in their hypertension so they may benefit more from treatments that target other biological aspects of their genetic risk.  

Professor Cairns’ findings were published in Circulation, a prestigious international cardiology journal last week. 

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