Cardio-vascular disease continues to be a major reason for mortality among working-age Finns, even though the risk factors are currently very well known. Identifying high-risk persons and targeting preventative measures in time would be of vital importance in terms of both the wellbeing of the individual and costs to society.
The risk evaluation methods currently in use are based mainly on cholesterol levels, smoking and blood pressure, in addition to age and gender. However, these tools can only identify fewer than one half of people with an elevated risk to contract coronary artery disease in the near future. Genetic factors significantly contribute to disease susceptibility, but traditional risk calculators do not make use of this genomic information.
Both individuals, health care professionals and society need more efficient ways of recognising risk of illness
Coronary artery disease is a good example of a case where lifestyle choices have a major impact on the likelihood of contracting the illness. However, new, more individualised, methods are needed to support health behaviour changes.
For this purpose, a group of University of Helsinki researchers has developed a new kind of risk calculator for coronary artery disease, the KardioKompassi®, which takes advantage of the latest genomic data in addition to traditional risk factors.
The KardioKompassi is a web app, which uses genomic data extensively, combining information gleaned from human genetics with traditional health data which is relevant to heart health. The calculator evaluates and interprets personal risk for contracting coronary artery disease during the coming ten years for each user. Using the interactive interface, users can also test how different lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, impact their risk.
KardioKompassi has been developed by a group of experts in genomic medicine and biostatistics from FIMM, the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (HiLIFE Unit), who have spent several years working on the application under the leadership of Samuli Ripatti and Elisabeth Widén. In addition, the current team includes Project Manager Johanna Aro and Kari Pitkänen, a biotechnology veteran tasked with business development.
The risk calculator is based on a statistical algorithm using the latest genomic research data from the FINRISK study. The algorithm was developed by Samuli Ripatti’s research group.
“From the very beginning, our goal has been to create an easy-to-use tool where users can independently find out as much information as possible about their risk of illness and see how changes in their lifestyle would influence the risk,” says Elisabeth Widén.
Individualised risk data is motivating
The usability and significance of the risk data is currently being analysed in the extensive GeneRISK research project. More than 7,300 people from the Helsinki Metropolitan Area and the Kymenlaakso region have participated in the study. All study participants were also invited to the first follow-up study 18 months after the launch of the research.
Based on the sampling from the first follow-up study, nine out of ten participants felt that the information about the risks motivated them to take better care of their health. Results on lifestyle changes are similarly promising: 13% of participants had managed to permanently lower their body weight, while 14% of smokers had stopped smoking. The group with the highest genetic risk had made the most positive changes to their health behaviour.
This means that in a research setting, the KardioKompassi has been found to be an easy and accessible way of finding information about people’s personal risk of illness. The team has explored the potential of commercialising the concept with the New Business from Research Ideas funding from Business Finland, which ended in August 2019. This funding was granted to the University and the project during summer 2017 with the help from Helsinki Innovation Services HIS. With this funding, KardioKompassi is currently piloted in clinical settings, both in Finland and abroad.