Researchers Develop First Global Risk Model for Cardiovascular Disease

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Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Imperial College of London, along with other colleagues, have developed the first mathematical model that works on a global level to predict an individual’s risk of cardiovascular disease.

The project, spearheaded by first authors Kaveh Hajifathalian and Peter Ueda, compiled data from eight preexisting cohort studies and aims to improve allotment of resources and disease treatment in low-income countries, according to the first authors.

Peter Ueda, a post-doctoral researcher at the School of Public Health, said several variables determine cardiovascular risk, and the new model incorporates major contributing factors to achieve a high level of specificity.

“The risk pattern is different across countries and populations,” Ueda said. “Even if you have the same risk factor levels, the same blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, and diabetes, depending on which population you belong to, you will have [a] different risk of cardiovascular disease.”

Ueda added that without this specificity, cardiovascular risk estimates can be inaccurate. According to Goodarz Danaei, an assistant professor of global health at the School of Public Health, most estimates for developing countries tend to run high, meaning resources are over-allocated to these populations. The new model hopes to decrease this margin of inefficiency, Danaei said.

The researchers decided to use risk factors that correlate most strongly with the development of cardiovascular disease.

“We chose the risk factors that were readily available in low income settings: blood pressure, cholesterol, age, gender, smoking, and diabetes,” Ueda said. The new model takes into account all of these variables and also allows for population-specific calibration.

The accuracy and benefits of the new model will also be readily accessible to the public. According to Danaei, a website will list risks of cardiovascular disease in countries all around the world later this year.

Ueda said he hopes this model will be able to help the rapidly growing number of cardiovascular disease patients.

“Cardiovascular disease is increasing rapidly in low income countries, and up until recently, most attention has been focused on infectious diseases,” Ueda said. “But noncommunicable diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, are the leading causes of death globally.”

—Staff writer Melanie Y. Fu can be reached at mfu@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @MelanieYFu.

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