'Supercomputer' uncovers genetic mutations that cause heart defects

A team of bioinformatics experts, genetic scientists and cardiac specialists has harnessed the power of a supercomputer to determine which biological systems in the heart are affected by the genetic mutations that cause heart defects, the University of Copenhagen reports.

The systems biology research project was able to find "previously unknown and complex correlations between known risk factors and heart biology," the university noted in announcing its findings, which also are due to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.

"A systems biology approach can lead to surprising and pioneering conclusions, but the work is difficult and requires a great degree of interdisciplinary collaboration," the university said. The analysis included mapping all the components of biological systems such as cells or bacteria, identifying the functions of each and establishing their "mutual relationships,"  according to the announcement.

Discovering a biological common denominator among thousands of risk factors can help researchers better prevent and diagnose congenital heart defects, lead researcher Lars Allan Larsen from the university's Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine said.

In other recent bioinformatics projects, researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine announced last month that they analyzed 1 million patient medical records to establish links between certain drug combinations and common side effects.

And in May, researchers with the University of Queensland's Institute for Molecular Bioscience announced informatics-driven research that revealed potential drug treatments for ovarian cancer. Their results were published in in the journal Genome Medicine.

To learn more:
- read the heart study announcement