Scientists have developed a new genetic risk score that is similarly or more predictive than commonly known risk factors for stroke. The study was led by researchers from the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute (Australia), University of Cambridge (UK), and Ludwig-Maximillians-University, Munich (Germany) who developed this meta-scoring approach model to identify individuals at a 3-fold increased risk of developing ischaemic stroke – one of the leading causes of disability and death world-wide. Published in Nature Communications, the work suggests that more preventive measures are needed for individuals with higher genetic risk scores from this new scoring, than ones recommended by current guidelines.

Ischaemic stroke is the most common type of stroke and characterised by the sudden loss of blood circulation to the brain, resulting in loss of neurologic function and possibly death. A combination of genetic and environmental factors can affect the risk of ischaemic stroke, such as family history, high blood pressure and smoking.

Genome-wide association studies have already generated genomic risk scores (GRS), but they haven’t been exceptional at predicting risk factors for stroke. The researchers used a meta-scoring approach to develop a metaGRS for ischaemic stroke and analysed it against 420,000 individuals from the UK Biobank.

Stroke-related genetic data was taken from various sources and integrated into a single genetic risk score, and then applied to individuals in the UK Biobank. The new risk scores outperformed the previous genetic scores and had similar predictive performance as other well-known risk factors for stroke. The new genetic risk score could detect roughly 1 in 400 individuals at 3-fold increased risk, performing better at predicting future ischaemic stoke than looking at family history.

Identifying individuals with an increased risk score for ischaemic stroke can allow them to search for ways to reduce their risk through minimising conventional risk factors such as lowering BMI, blood pressure, and not smoking. This new genetic risk score shows that current risk scores may be insufficient for individuals who are at high genetic risk of stroke and need more intensive interventions.