Blood test may someday predict who is suicidal

Hopkins researchers explore how a gene mutation leads to suicidal thoughts

July 30, 2014|By Meredith Cohn

A blood test that monitors changes in one specific gene may someday allow doctors to predict those likely to attempt suicide.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University identified a chemical alteration linked to stress reactions and plan more studies.

Monitoring blood could some day help doctors more easily determine if intervention is necessary for service members returning home or the needs of those seeking psychiatric care. And blood tests could also be used to identify people who can’t tolerate certain medications that lead to suicidal thoughts.

“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, the study leader, in a statement.

“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,” said Kaminsky, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences in Hopkins’ School of Medicine.

The findings, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, centered on mutations in a gene called SKA2. The researchers studied it in mentally ill and healthy people, and found the mutations added chemicals called methyl groups to the genes.

Higher levels were found in those who had killed themselves or had suicidal thoughts or attempts.

Then they designed a model to predict who would have such thoughts and were 80 percent accurate, and more accurate in those with severe risk of suicide.

The researcher say the gene is expressed in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is involved with inhibiting negative thoughts and controlling impulsive behavior. The alteration of the gene sets off a chain that prevents the normal preventive actions.


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