The discovery could lead to treatment for millions of Americans with balance problems.
Researchers in Utah and Iceland have found variants in the human genome that can determine who has vertigo – a finding that could help better diagnose and treat the condition that causes dizziness and problems with balance in millions of Americans.
Scientists – some of them working for Utah-based Intermountain Healthcare, as well as Reykjavik, Iceland-based CODE Genetics – have discovered six common genetic variants associated with vertigo.
The study used DNA data collected in the United States, Iceland, the United Kingdom and Finland – comparing data from 48,000 people with vertigo with some 895,000 people who do not, said Astros Skuladottir, principal investigator of the study, speaking to reporters Wednesday from the deCODE offices in Iceland during a virtual press conference hosted by Intermountain.
Some of this data came from HerediGene: Population Study, a program launched in 2019 by Intermountain and deCODE, a subsidiary of biopharmaceutical giant Amgen.
The results were published on October 7. in the journal Communications Biology, published by Nature.
Vertigo affects nearly 40% of the American population at some point in their lives, according to Intermountain. It is one of the leading causes of falls and bone fractures, which accounts for tens of thousands of emergency room visits each year.
Stephanie Nay, an Intermountain employee who has had bouts of vertigo over the past few years, described the sensation as if she was “marking in a tunnel that circled around me”.
Nay is one of more than 80,000 people who donated a blood sample to the HerediGene study, which aims to collect more than half a million DNA samples from people in Utah and Idaho. Intermountain presents the program as the largest and most comprehensive single-population DNA mapping effort in the United States.
Finding the genetic cause of vertigo can lead to finding a cure, said deCODE Founder and CEO Dr KÃ¡ri StefÃ¡nsson. “If you show that a disease is caused by an upgrade of a [genetic] pathway, you can then develop a drug to downgrade that same pathway, âStefansson said.
The vertigo study, said Skuladottir, “really shows the importance of this collaborative work – to use the large datasets we have and combine them to find sequence variants and the biological foundations of diseases.”
The vertigo study found that none of the six genetic variants were associated with hearing loss, and only one was associated with age-related hearing loss, Skuladottir said. This is important because the vestibular system, in the inner ear, regulates the sense of balance.
Finding a genetic link for vertigo can also help doctors trying to diagnose strokes and heart attacks, said Dr. Kirk Knowlton, chair of the cardiovascular research department at the Intermountain Heart Institute.
Many people with cardiovascular distress complain of dizziness, Knowlton said. But dizziness can come in two ways – the feeling of “spinning” or fainting from lack of blood to the brain – and patients may not be able to tell the difference when this happens, he said. -he declares. So if a doctor knows if a patient has the genetic variants that indicate dizziness, it can speed up the diagnosis of a cardiovascular problem, he said.
Dr Lincoln Nadauld, vice president and chief of precision health and academics at Intermountain, said this study is the first time that data from the HerediGene program has been used to find a genetic link to a particular disease.
âI wouldn’t have guessed that vertigo is what we would find first,â Nadauld said. Nadauld and StefÃ¡nsson said more studies using data from HerediGene are ongoing and may reveal genetic links to other disorders.