Brain and Body

A New App and Blood Test Can Predict Suicidal Tendencies

November 6, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

Blood analysis in a medical laboratory
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Scientists have created a startlingly accurate method of predicting whether a patient will have suicidal thoughts.

Every 40 seconds, someone’s life is taken by suicide, the devastating end of a long, crippling battle with mental health. According to the first-ever comprehensive suicide report by the World Health Organization (WHO), there are over 800,000 suicide deaths around the world annually. Suicide rates vary based on the different cultural, social, religious, and economic environments, and it’s hard to predict when emotional distress has reached the level of choosing not to live anymore. But scientists might be able to change that with a new blood test and app.

As researchers continue to further understand mental health, many hope to take that understanding to the next level with technologies that can predict human behavior. Though some may be discomforted by the notion that a scientist could have the ability to analyze someone’s brain to the point of forecasting suicide, the predictive tools have the potential to save lives.

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According to a study published in Molecular Psychiatry, researchers from Indiana University have developed a test that detects specific biomarkers in the blood that indicate a risk for suicidal tendencies. Not all patients with mental illness will develop suicidal thoughts and it’s currently difficult to predict which ones will. But the study authors write that suicide is a “potentially preventable tragedy.”

In order to best predict it, the researchers wanted to find both biological and self-reported indicators that could clarify which patients are at the highest risk of suicide (even if the patients themselves didn’t know it). The results of their research method proved to be startlingly accurate.

They analyzed the biomarkers in 217 male participants who had all been diagnosed with a variety of mental disorders. Biomarkers are molecules produced by the body whose concentrations can fluctuate in response to the environment or a disease condition like mental illness.

Once they identified which biomarkers were most correlated with suicidal thoughts, the researchers teamed up with the local coroner’s office to dig deeper. They looked for those same biomarkers in blood samples of 26 men who had committed suicide, finding that the blood test was 92 percent accurate.

To be used in conjunction with the biomarker blood test, the researchers developed an app with a questionnaire to provide them with self-reported data. The combination of biological and self-reported data will lead the researchers to the best possible prediction of suicide risk.

However, the fact that the study was only conducted on men is a significant limitation of the study. Recent research determined that there are molecular differences in the brains of men and women that bring about different reactions to various drugs. It’s clear that, due to underlying differences in the brain, men and women require distinct research to render accurate conclusions for both sexes.

Nonetheless, this new research brings the exciting possibility of being able to help those struggling with mental disorders get the help they need before taking irrevocable action. In a press release, Alexander B. Niculescu III, professor of psychiatry and medical neuroscience at the IU School of Medicine, said, “We believe that widespread adoption of risk prediction tests based on these findings during healthcare assessments will enable clinicians to intervene with lifestyle changes or treatments that can save lives.” Understanding the emotional distress that occurs in the brains of those with mental disorders is no easy task, but we can thank science for finally instilling a new sense of hope.


CORRECTION: This story originally appeared until the title "Ireland Plans for “Injection Rooms” Where Addicts Can Safely Shoot up"

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