A Blood Test for Suicide?

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Okay, let’s get real — a blood test for suicide is certainly a long way off, if it ever becomes a reality at all. But it’s one step closer to reality thanks to recent research out of Johns Hopkins, which found that alterations in a single gene seemed to cause ordinary stress responses to spiral into suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Researchers looked at one particular genetic mutation in one particular gene, comparing brain samples from both healthy and mentally ill people. Their findings are a little difficult to translate into plain language (read a full explanation here), but they basically were able to come up with a model that enabled them to predict whether participants in a different study had had suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide with 80 percent certainty. Even more surprisingly, they had 90 percent accuracy when pinpointing those at the most severe risk for suicide, and 96 (!!) percent accuracy with the study’s youngest participants.

Nearly 40,000 Americans die from suicide attempts each year, making it one of the top ten leading causes of death in this country. “Suicide is a major preventable public health problem, but we have been stymied in our prevention efforts because we have no consistent way to predict those who are at increased risk of killing themselves,” said  Zachary Kaminsky, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins, and a lead author of this study.  “With a test like ours, we may be able to stem suicide rates by identifying those people and intervening early enough to head off a catastrophe.”

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