Mendelian randomization: how genetics is pushing the boundaries of epidemiology to identify new causes of heart disease.
Abstract The past 10 years have seen a remarkable revolution in the genetics of cardiovascular (CV) disease. Although much work remains to bring these discoveries to the bedside, genetics has opened up remarkable possibilities in understanding the causes of CV disease through a relatively novel study design known as "Mendelian randomization." Akin to a randomized trial, Mendelian randomization is a genetic study design that takes advantage of the "randomization" of genetic information at birth to evaluate a potential causal relationship between a genetically determined biomarker and an outcome. By providing evidence for causal relationships, Mendelian randomization can improve our understanding of fundamental mechanisms in human disease, potentially accelerate the identification of bona fide drug targets, and ultimately improve the care of patients with CV disease. This review describes the concept and design of Mendelian randomization genetic studies, discusses their strengths and weaknesses, and presents recent examples of Mendelian randomization studies in the CV literature that have helped clarify the causal role of selected biomarkers in CV medicine.