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Blood Test May Determine Suicide Risk

Update Date: Aug 20, 2013 08:31 AM EDT
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Blood tests may soon be used to determine a person's suicide risk, according to a new study.

Scientists at Indiana University School of Medicine were able to identify a series of RNA biomarkers in blood that may help identify people at risk for committing suicide.

The study found that the biomarkers were found at significantly higher levels in the blood of both bipolar disorder patients with thoughts of suicide and those who had committed suicide.

Researchers believe the latest findings provide a first "proof of principle" for a test that could warn health providers of patients being at higher risk for an impulsive suicidal act.

"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," Dr. Niculescu, director of the Laboratory of Neurophenomics at the Institute of Psychiatric Research at the IU School of Medicine, said in a news release.

"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. We need better ways to identify, intervene and prevent these tragic cases," he said.

For three years, Niculescu and his colleagues followed a large group of patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  Researchers conducted interviews and took blood samples every three to six months.

Researchers analyzed the blood of a group of participants who reported a dramatic shift from no suicidal thoughts to strong suicidal ideation. Afterwards, they identified differences in gene expression between the "low" and "high" states of suicidal thoughts and found the best markers by comparing with other lines of evidence.

The study found that the marker SAT1 and a series of other markers provided the strongest biological "signal" associated with suicidal thoughts.

To validate their findings, researchers analyzed blood samples from suicide victims and found that some of the same top markers were significantly elevated.

To confirm the findings, researchers analyzed blood test results from two additional groups of patients and found that high blood levels and found that high blood levels of the biomarkers were correlated with future suicide-related hospitalizations, as well as hospitalizations that had occurred before the blood tests.

"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 Dr. Niculescu.

"These seem to be good markers for suicidal behavior in males who have bipolar mood disorders or males in the general population who commit impulsive violent suicide. In the future we want to study and assemble clinical and socio-demographic risk factors, along with our blood tests, to increase our ability to predict risk," he concluded.

The findings are published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry

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