A new blood test is said to be able to predict thoughts of suicide in men with 92 percent accuracy by examining their gene expressions. The test was created by a research team from Indiana University. Alexander Niculescu led the team that developed a blood test and questionnaire that reportedly can determine if men with psychological disorders will develop thoughts of suicide and suicidal feelings within the next year.
Niculescu’s team, having identified 11 gene changes that they believed were biological markers leading to suicide and suicidal thoughts, compared these gene expressions in 37 men who said they were suicidal. The team also examined the possible markers in post-mortem samples from 26 men who had committed suicide. Then, the Indiana University researchers took blood samples from 217 men who were being cared for due to a variety of psychiatric needs.
Armed with this info, the team conducted a trial of 108 people, and according to an article on PBS, the researchers predictions were 92 percent accurate when examining risk of having suicidal ideation. Then, in a second trial, they examined 157 men and predicted with 71 percent accuracy which men would be hospitalized for attempted suicide in the next year.
In people diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the test was almost as accurate as a positive pregnancy test! It was able to detect which men with bipolar disorder would have suicidal thoughts 98 percent of the time. Among this population, it predicted actual suicide attempts with 94 percent accuracy.
The researchers aren’t sure if the test would be as accurate on the general population, unfortunately. Without more fine tuning, it reportedly would be irresponsible to release the test for active use in the general population. There could be too many false positives or false negatives, but reports say it could be very helpful for doctors to use with patients already suffering from psychological disorders. If a patient’s gene expression indicated a high risk of suicide, then doctors could ask for longer treatment, even in the absence of other clinical signs. With this tool at a psychologist’s disposal, suicides that might not have been expected or foreseeable might be prevented, some hope. Still, is that plausible?
Though this all sounds amazing, an Emory University professor was quick to debunk the media hype.
“Regrettably, the scientific reality is far less promising. The news coverage and the press release are in sharp contrast with the scientific article, which was published last month in the American Journal of Psychiatry,” Cecile Janssens wrote. “The article repeatedly emphasizes that the study was very small and had notable shortcomings, that the results still need to be confirmed, and even that one of the main findings might be a statistical artifact.”
Prof. Janssens pointed out that, regardless of the reports in the news, a blood test that would predict future suicide risk is nowhere to be found yet on the horizon.
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