A Blood Test for Suicide

May 2, 2014

By Medical Discovery News

The 10th leading cause of death in America is completely preventable – suicide.  In 2010, 38,364 people died by suicide, more than chronic liver disease, septicemia, and Parkinson’s disease.

While strongly linked to depression, there are not always clear warning signs that someone is about to commit suicide. Unlike a viral or bacterial infection where there can be a number of signs like changes in body temperature, white blood cells, and signaling molecules, there is no simple clinical test to diagnose suicidal tendencies. Now, new research is working toward a blood test using biomarkers that may identify those likely to commit suicide. 

Biomarkers are biological materials that are seen under specific conditions. For example, during a viral infection proteins called cytokines are produced by the human body to help defend cells and tissues from the virus. Identifying these proteins is a signature of viral infection. The challenge is that these signatures change over the course of the infection and different viruses can produce different signatures. Scientists have been working extensively to use this concept of biomarkers to help with the early detection of other diseases from cancer to Alzheimer’s. 

Researchers at the University of Indiana want to design a simple blood test to detect a specific biomarker to identify those who might be at risk for suicide. They have been looking for protein biomarkers that can distinguish different psychological states. For example, can specific biomarkers tell if someone with bipolar disorder is in a high or low mood? In this recent study, researchers looked for biomarkers in individuals contemplating suicide. Every three to six months, they interviewed and drew blood from their subjects – 75 men with bipolar disorder – and rated their risk of suicide from low to high. Several proteins in the blood varied with these mood swings but one in particular caught researchers’ attention. The protein SAT1 was present in all of those with high indications of suicidal thoughts. SAT1 plays a role in the body’s response to stressful situations.

They then tested suicide victims, grouping them by age and gender, and found high levels of SAT1 in all of them. Finally, they took blood samples regularly from about 80 men with either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. The study showed higher SAT1 levels in those who were later hospitalized for suicidal behavior. The presence of elevated SAT1 was more than 80 percent predictive of hospitalization. Overall, these are promising results.

SAT1 is not an absolute signature for suicide because many things that can affect its levels. And like any complex behavior, there are a multitude of factors involved. Other biomarkers will need to be identified to create a biosignature for suicide. But this is an exciting discovery that may be used to prevent the tragic deaths of many people in the future.   

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A Top 10 List To Die For

Sept. 13, 2013

By Medical Discovery News

How are you going to die?

The Centers for Disease Control would answer that life expectancy depends greatly on where someone lives. Life expectancy in the United States ranks 40th in the world with 77.97 years.That addresses when someone might die but what about how? Most likely, it will be from one of these top 10 causes, based on how many Americans they kill each year.

10) Suicide – 38,285. Many factors are now known to influence suicide: mental illnesses, genetics, certain pharmaceuticals, traumatic brain injuries, drug and alcohol abuse, and chemical or hormonal imbalances. To decrease these rates, education about the signs preceding suicide and accessible treatment is necessary.

9) Kidney Disorders – 45,731. Although dialysis can help people survive a little longer without a kidney, it is no cure. Kidney damage can occur from infection, high blood pressure, or toxic reactions to drugs, leading to chronic kidney disease that affects more than 26 million Americans.

8) Influenza and Pneumonia – 53,667. Both these diseases mostly affect the very old, very young, or those with immune system problems. This figure could be lowered with vaccinations.

7) Diabetes – 73,282. The rate of diabetes is increasing, with one in 500 children being diagnosed, corresponding to trends in obesity, diet, exercise, and aging. Lifestyle changes could decrease diabetes rates.

6) Alzheimer’s – 84,691. This form of dementia affects older adults, mostly over 60, and is caused by the build-up of beta-amyloid protein plaques in the brain. There is currently no cure.

5) Accidents – 122,777. The leading cause of accidental deaths depends on age. For children and young adults it’s car accidents, adults over 35 are most likely to accidentally overdose on drugs, and for those over 65 it’s most likely to be related to a fall.

4) Stroke – 128,931. A stroke occurs when an area of the brain does not receive oxygen due to a ruptured or blocked blood vessel. Those with high blood pressure, diabetics, smokers, and alcoholics are at the highest risk. The good news is that deaths from strokes decreased by almost 45 percent in 10 years but still leads to more than 250,000 hospitalizations yearly.

3) Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases – 143,382. These diseases of the lungs and airways include bronchitis and emphysema, although the latter kills 20 times more than the former. Smoking is the leading cause of this condition.

2) Cancer – 575,313. Lung, colon, breast, pancreatic, and prostate cancers have the most victims out of more than 200 different types affecting more than 60 different organs. Another piece of good news is that five-year survival rates have increased about 15 percent since the 1970s.

1) Heart Disease – 596,339. Advances in science have improved care, reducing these deaths by 18 percent in 10 years. However, as 25 percent of adults have high blood pressure, 67 percent are overweight, and 20 percent smoke, Americans have plenty of risk factors to improve on.

The United States has maintained its leadership role in biomedical science and needs to continue this in the future. Support biomedical research – your life may depend on that next scientific advance.

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