A blood test could soon be used to identify people who are at risk of suicide.
Indiana University researchers followed a group of patients with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia over three years, taking blood samples and analyzing what molecules changed in the blood from participants who at first had no suicidal thoughts, then started seriously contemplating suicide.
The researchers then honed in on the genetic markers linked to the suicidal behavior. Lead researcher and IU Associate Professor of Psychiatry Dr. Alexander Niculescu says the findings mean doctors could eventually be able to use blood tests to identify the markers and help determine patients’ suicide risks.
“I think that’s the way of the future. Blood tests by themselves will provide some objective biological signal, but they may not be specific or strong enough,” he says. “You have to take them in context with other clinical information.”
In other words, up until now, psychiatrists typically have had to rely on what patients tell them—whether they admit to having suicidal thoughts. Now, they can combine that information with medical tests.
Lisa Brattain is the Indiana and Ohio Area Director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and says such a test would be groundbreaking.
“Having a concrete way to identify that would be amazing,” she says. “Certainly a long time coming and I know the entire country and world would be grateful for better ways to detect and identify as well as create treatment for people that are at risk.”
Among other tests conducted included searching for biomarkers in those who already committed suicide, with a major finding that high levels of the SAT1 gene were present in all victims studied.
The actual blood tests haven’t been developed, but Niculescu says he doesn’t doubt they will become a key part of suicide prevention in the near future.