Blood test for suicide helps identify people at risk

People who intend to harm themselves often develop depression symptoms. They usually desist from seeking medical help and do not converse about their feelings and thoughts with others.

Such suicidal behavior often leads at a “preventable tragedy”, says Alexander Niculescu, a psychiatrist at Indiana University in Indianapolis.

To curb the rise in the incidence of such “preventable tragedies”, researchers at the Indiana University in Indianapolis have developed a marker that can give insights of a person’s suicide risk.

The study
For the purpose of the study, researchers enrolled 42 men with bipolar disorder and 46 men with schizophrenia. Both mental disorders are strongly related to high suicidal tendencies.

Researchers took blood samples of participants at different times and compared them with samples taken from people who had committed suicide.

Each time the participants gave blood samples they were required to answer questions about their psychiatric states, including suicidal thoughts, if any.

Researchers identified nine individuals whose suicidal thoughts shifted from low to high over the period of six months. Researchers compared their blood samples drawn when their suicidal thoughts were low to blood samples drawn when suicidal thoughts were high.

Researchers found that biomarkers SAT1 and CD24 were strongly linked with suicidal thoughts. While high expression of a SAT1 gene had strong links to suicidal thinking, low expression of a Cd24 gene conferred the same properties.

Researchers then compared the results with blood samples of people who had committed suicide.

SAT1 biomarker was found to be the strongest predictor. “It was head and shoulders above the rest,” says Niculescu. The work “opens a window into the biology of what’s happening,” he says.

The team observed that the active genes were not ‘state markers’ of one’s immediate suicide risk, but ‘trait markers’ that indicated long-term risk.

“Individuals at risk often choose not to share their ideation or intent with others, for fear of stigma, or that in fact their plans may be thwarted,” Niculescu explained. “Given the fact that approximately 1 million people die of suicide worldwide each year, and this is a potentially preventable cause of death, the need for, urgency and importance of efforts such as ours cannot be overstated.”

The findings of the study are published online Tuesday by the journal Molecular Psychiatry.