About one out of every 500 people, according to the American Heart Association, have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, HCM, which is a disorder in which the heart muscle thickens, causing problems with blood flow through the heart.

Jil Tardiff, M.D., Ph.D., researcher for the UA Department of Medicine and the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, said the disorder has been known for about 60 years.

But, "Only in the last 20 years, we've come to understand that there's a genetic basis for this disease."

New tools, which make it possible to study tissues at the sub-cellular level, are allowing scientists like Tardiff to better understand how genetic mutations lead to heart conditions, such as HCM.

Additionally, genetic studies of the heart make it possible to trace the disease as it runs through a family and figure out, "Who is going to develop heart disease, when they are going to develop it, and what we can do to short circuit it," she said.