Blood test could predict suicide risk

Johns Hopkins researchers have found a chemical alteration in a single human gene linked to stress reactions. And they say the discovery could pave the way for a simple blood test that could accurately predict a person’s risk of attempting suicide.

For the study, researchers looked at a genetic mutation in the brain samples from mentally ill and healthy people. They found that the samples from people who died from suicide had significantly reduced levels of a gene known as SKA2.  The researchers said that changes in the gene, which is involved in the function of the brain's response to stress hormones, could play a significant role in turning what might otherwise be an unremarkable reaction to the everyday strains of life into suicidal thoughts and behavior.

The researchers tested three different sets of blood samples, the largest involving 325 people. They found similar increases in a particular chemical at the SKA2 gene in people with suicidal thoughts or attempts. Then they designed a model analysis that predicted which participants were experiencing suicidal thoughts or had attempted suicide with 80 percent accuracy. Those with a more severe risk were predicted with 90 percent accuracy. In the youngest data set, they were able to predict with 96 percent accuracy if a person had attempted suicide, based on blood test results.

The researchers say that in the future, the blood test could be used in a variety of clinical settings, including making decisions about the intensity of intervention for an individual or for use in the military to closely monitor those with the mutation when they return home from service.

Larger studies are necessary to confirm the findings.

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