Blood test reveals biomarkers for future suicide attempts – study

© Thomas Peter
US scientists have managed to find certain biomarkers in blood that can help predict a potential suicide victim, says the study, adding that it can give an early warning of some individuals who may commit an “impulsive suicide act.”

The method includes blood tests and questionnaires, implemented as apps on tablets, that together are able to predict with about 92-percent accuracy which patients will think of suicide or even try to commit it, says a press release about the research carried out at Indiana University.

The questionnaires alone are able to predict “the onset of significant suicidal thoughts” with more than 80-percent accuracy, the research paper adds.

"We now have developed a better panel of biomarkers that are predictive across several psychiatric diagnoses. Combined with the apps, we have a broader spectrum predictor for suicidality," said Dr Niculescu, director of the Laboratory of Neurophenomics at the Institute of Psychiatric Research at the IU School of Medicine, one of the co-authors of the study. 

Neither of the apps, developed separately, asks the participant directly if they are planning to commit suicide.

“One of the apps assesses measures of mood and anxiety; the other asks questions related to life issues including physical and mental health, addictions, cultural factors and environmental stress,” the press release says.

Niculescu and his colleagues have been following a large group of male patients for three years. They have been diagnosed with mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder.

"Suicide is a big problem in psychiatry. It's a big problem in the civilian realm, it's a big problem in the military realm and there are no objective markers," added the scientist.

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In the blood samples of these patients the scientists were able to find certain “biomarkers at significantly higher levels in the blood of both bipolar disorder patients with thoughts of suicide as well in a group of people who had committed suicide.”

The scientists detected the SAT1 marker and a series of other markers in the blood of the patients, which indicated a propensity to suicide. They found the same markers in the blood of suicide victims.

"This suggests that these markers reflect more than just a current state of high risk, but could be trait markers that correlate with long term risk," said Niculescu.

According to the researcher, there are people who will not “reveal they are having suicidal thoughts when you ask them, who then commit it and there's nothing you can do about it.”

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“We need better ways to identify, intervene and prevent these tragic cases…Over a million people each year worldwide die from suicide and this is a preventable tragedy,” he said, adding that the paper is a “first ‘proof of principle’ for a test that could provide an early warning of somebody being at higher risk for an impulsive suicide act.”

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He added the research is not complete, as it must be carried out on females as well. It must also take into consideration other groups, such as people who have less impulsive, more deliberate and planned subtypes of suicide.

"Suicide is complex: in addition to psychiatric and addiction issues that make people more vulnerable, there are existential issues related to lack of satisfaction with one’s life, lack of hope for the future, not feeling needed, and cultural factors that make suicide seem like an option."