Devices & Diagnostics

Now that biomarkers for suicide risk have been identified, could a diagnostic test be far off?

About 1 million people die from suicide each year. It’s one of the most frustrating dilemmas in psychiatry — how do you get beyond what a patient says or doesn’t say and accurately assess their risk for committing suicide? A group of scientists has come much closer to addressing that issue with the discovery of […]

About 1 million people die from suicide each year. It’s one of the most frustrating dilemmas in psychiatry — how do you get beyond what a patient says or doesn’t say and accurately assess their risk for committing suicide? A group of scientists has come much closer to addressing that issue with the discovery of biomarkers associated with suicidal behavior.

According to an article published in Nature detailing the study, a group of researchers from Indiana University School of Medicine evaluated men with bipolar disorder and patients with schizophrenia from a VA hospital and from other health care facilities in the state.

Bipolar disorder has a strong association with suicide risk. One in three individuals with bipolar disorder attempts suicide during their lifetime, according to the article.

About nine of the patients went from having no suicidal thoughts to becoming high suicide risks. Scientists compared the changes in the blood of these men with the blood of men who died from suicide and used that data to come up with a list of six biomarkers.

Blood samples were collected repeatedly at three to six month intervals. In an interview with Popular Science, the co-author of the study, Alexander Niculescu, an associate professor of psychiatry and medical neuroscience at the Indiana University School of Medicine, said the researchers used Convergent Functional Genomics to narrow down the most relevant biomarkers.

He likened the process to the way Google page ranks work. “…The more links to a page, the higher it gets prioritized in your search list…Same thing with this approach.”

Of the six likely biomarkers, SAT1 generated the most “hits.” The scientists found that by identifying the biomarker in patients they could accurately predict who would be hospitalized for reasons associated with suicide.

Still, the study concluded that much more work would need to be done to explore factors like gender and ethnicity. It also emphasized that predicting suicidal feelings and thoughts could be much different than predicting suicidal actions and behavior. There’s also family history and other issues to consider.

It’s an interesting development for personalized medicine, though. At a time when we’re seeing so much activity in the development of diagnostic tests to assess risks of developing certain types of cancer to early detection of Type 1 diabetes to risk of a premature birth, it’s encouraging to see that strides are being made in behavioral health issues that have been tough to identify and treat.

[Photo Credit: People connect across gap from BigStock Photos]