Unwitting Geneticist Discovers Her Own Cardiomyopathy Gene: Heidi Rehm’s Story

Dr. Heidi Rehm is a human geneticist and clinical laboratory director at Harvard Medical School who has spent much of her career studying the genetics of cardiomyopathy.

Imagine her surprise when she found out that she, her mother and her daughter all have a mutation in the MYH7 gene which has been associated with dilated cardiomyopathy!

The unexpected revelation came as an indirect result of a visit to her daughter’s orthodontist.  When one of her daughter’s teeth was delayed coming in, the orthodontist suggested that there might be a genetic cause for the late tooth.  This provided the idea behind her high school daughter’s summer biology research project: 2 weeks in her mom’s lab sequencing her exome, looking for a genetic cause for her delayed tooth.

Though the mouth genetics turned out to be normal and the tooth eventually arrived, an totally unexpected incidental finding turned up instead:  a variation in the MYH7 gene which has been associated with dilated cardiomyopathy.

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HCM May Develop Later in Life

A recent study followed 14 patients carrying one of two known genes associated with HCM (MYBPC3 and MYH7) over a 10+ year period .  At the time  of gene identification, none of the patients shown clinical evidence of hypertrophy.  Over the time span of the study, 3 patients, who were then adults, had developed signs of HCM.  Hence, the study suggests that periodic screenings are necessary for gene positive individuals throughout adulthood.

According to Cardiomyopathy U.K., the researchers undertook this project due to the lack of information and guidelines available to patients who are gene positive but have no outward signs of the disease.