Smartphone apps can already help manage many aspects of our health, from tracking physical activity to suggesting healthy eating options to monitoring heart rate. Now, a new app has been developed that predicts an individual’s genetic risk for coronary artery disease (CAD), the most common type of heart disease in the US. Recent study results show that the app encourages more people to seek therapy for CAD at an earlier time frame.
The Scripps Research team that developed the MyGeneRank app describe how it works in a recent npj Digital Medicine study, where adults with an existing 23andMe genetic profiling and smartphone referred themselves to the prospective observational cohort study. Using people’s genetic information from 23andMe, the app generates a polygenic risk score (PRS) for CAD.
The researchers were interested in what actions people would take after getting their risk score, with a particular focus on how it would impact people’s pursuit of lipid-lowering therapy. Of the 3,800 people who participated in the study, 721 gave complete enough responses to evaluate the app’s impact on their health choices.
The researchers found that those who received a high risk score for CAD were more than twice as likely as those with a low risk score for CAD to seek lipid-lowering therapy (20% vs 7.9%), with 15.2 percent of the high-risk group seeking statin therapy in particular, while only six percent of the low-risk group started statins. They also found that people who received a high risk score for CAD from the app started therapy earlier than those who had a low risk score (average age of 52 years vs 65 years).
“We saw about twice the rate of statin initiation in the high genetic risk group vs the low genetic risk group, which indicates that strategies like this could make a big contribution to public health—heart disease being the largest cause of death globally,” says study senior author Ali Torkamani, PhD, professor and director of Genomics and Genome Informatics at the Scripps Research Translational Institute, in a press release about the study.
Limitations and Outlook
The researchers acknowledged that, though their study shows that apps like MyGeneRank help encourage more people to seek lipid-lowering therapy, and seek it earlier, the study is limited by loss to follow-up. “Alternative communication routes, and long-term studies with EHR-based outcomes are needed to understand the generalizability and durability of this finding,” they write.