Updated: Friday, 01 Feb 2013, 7:07 PM EST
Published : Friday, 01 Feb 2013, 7:07 PM EST
FARMINGTON, Conn. (WTNH) -- UConn researchers are getting to the heart of a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. It's the number one killer for both men and women.
The researchers are taking what they now know about cholesterol levels to help save lives.
Dr. Annabelle Rodriguez led the charge in pinpointing a gene that questioned the ability of HDL, the healthy cholesterol number, in protecting against heart disease.
"More isn't always better," said Dr. Rodriguez, UConn Health Center.
They found high levels of HDL did not always overcome the gene's lack of deficiency. The evidence was first made clear in animal studies and then among men and women.
"Despite having high levels of the healthy cholesterol fraction in mice, they are prone to heart attacks and the female mice are infertile. We went on to find all those things in humans," said Dr. Rodriguez.
In women there is a connection to another health issue.
"In women particularly having a variation of the gene can cause problems for fertility because cholesterol is very important to making female hormones," said Dr. Rodriguez.
While they're studying the infertility issue closely here at UConn Health Center they are working on drug therapies to address the genetic link of HDL. A drug overseas could be effective.
"That medication worked in mice really well to restore fertility to reduce the heart attack risk in the same mice that lacked that gene that we humans also have a problem with," said Dr. Rodriguez.
That's good news for Claudia Keane with a family history of heart disease who watches her cholesterol level.
"I have it checked every 3 or 4 months," said Keane. "It's still not quite where I want it yet and that's why I'm hoping some weight loss and exercise will help to bring that down at my next test."
But it's what they learn here in the laboratory that could make an even bigger impact.