PHILADELPHIA, March 14, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A large international study indicates that anti-inflammatory drugs may become a new tool for preventing and treating coronary heart disease (CHD), the leading global cause of death. In investigating a specific gene variant linked to inflammation and heart disease, the researchers used the Cardiochip, a gene analysis tool designed by Brendan J. Keating, Ph.D., a researcher in the Center for Applied Genomics at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and co-author of the study.

Scientists already knew that inflammation is associated with atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty deposits on artery walls that causes CHD, but until now, no one had identified an inflammatory agent causing the disease. Likewise, it was unknown whether a drug targeted at reducing inflammation might treat CHD.

The current study focused on the interleukin-6 receptor (IL6R), a signaling protein found in the blood that increases inflammatory responses. "This study provides robust evidence that IL6R is implicated in coronary heart disease," said Keating. "Furthermore, our analysis showed that an existing anti-inflammatory drug, acting on this receptor, may offer a new potential approach for preventing CHD."

The study, which appeared online today in The Lancet, was performed by the IL6R Mendelian Randomisation Analysis Consortium, an international research team led by Dr. Juan Pablo Casas, Professor Aroon D. Hingorani, and Dr. Daniel I. Swerdlow, all of University College London in the U.K. The study was a meta-analysis of data from 40 existing studies that included nearly 133,500 participants from the U.S. and Europe. Mendelian randomization is a research method that uses knowledge of genes and biological mechanisms to predict likely effects of a new drug before conducting a clinical trial, with its high cost and potential risk of side effects.

A companion study in the same issue of The Lancet