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Scientists Develop Blood Test for Suicide Risk
Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.: Tue, Sep 24th 2013
Considering that in the United States, suicide claimed over 100 people a day in 2010 (CDC), it's imperative that we find better ways to detect people at risk for harming themselves so prevention strategies can be implemented before they make a suicide attempt.
That's why I was so pleased to read that scientists at the Indiana University School of Medicine have discovered a series of biomarkers in the blood that could help identify people at risk of committing suicide.
A biomarker is a substance in the body that indicates the presence of a biological condition such as a disease. Why are biomarkers so cool? Because they can be identified and measured fairly easily and tend to allow earlier diagnosis than other kinds of tests.
In the study, the researchers followed participants diagnosed with bipolar disorder for three years by completing interviews and taking blood samples every 3 to 6 months. They found differences in the RNA (ribonucleic acid, which affects gene expression) of those with high levels of suicidal thoughts.
The researchers then compared RNA biomarkers among the participants to blood samples from a group of individuals who had recently committed suicide. Their biomarker levels were highly elevated much like the levels of the original group.
Finally, the researchers compared the results from the first two groups of samples with blood samples from two other patient groups. Amazingly, these final patient groups also showed elevated RNA biomarkers that were associated with future hospitalizations due to suicide attempts and even linked to past suicide attempts.
This was a solid study due to its use of multiple comparison groups to show that RNA biomarkers consistently indicated a risk for suicide. I envision this biomarker test as an extra measure to use when other risk factors are already present (mental illness, substance abuse, etc.) in order to distinguish those who may actually make a suicide attempt. The test would be particularly useful when a person is experiencing suicidal thoughts but denies having them. In short, the test could become a powerful prevention tool.
I applaud the researchers for their work on this important topic, and I hope that additional research bolsters the argument to start using this test in clinical practice. In the meantime, here are some resources to learn more about suicide risk factors and where to find help:
Indiana University School of Medicine (2013). Researchers identify biomarkers for possible blood test to predict suicide risk. http://news.medicine.iu.edu/releases/2013/08/niculescu-biomarkers-suicide.shtml
Thank You! - Carrie Steckl, Ph.D. - Sep 25th 2013
Thank you for your comment! I agree that one study is by no means proof, which is why I wrote that I hoped for additional research on the topic before using a biomarker test in clinical practice. Still, it's encouraging to see scientists looking at this important issue. I appreciate your reasoned approach.
Research Yes, Proof No - Mark Adams - Sep 24th 2013
Granted, it is interesting and worth while reasearch but is still just one study. While it sounds well researched, the numbers can still be a fluke, and this by no means is considered proof.