updated - August 10, 2020 Monday EDT
The suicide risk in individuals may be determined with a blood test which detects a chemical alteration in a human gene linked to stress reactions, according to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry this week.
In a study published online Wednesday, researchers say they have discovered a genetic indicator of a person's vulnerability to the effects of stress and anxiety and, therefore, the risk of suicidal thoughts or attempts.
"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," Zachary Kaminsky, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said 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."
Researchers studied 150 postmortem brain samples of healthy people and those with mental illness, including some who had committed suicide. They found that those who died by suicide had significantly higher levels of the chemical that altered the SKA2 gene. As a result of the gene's modification, it was not able to "switch off" the effect of the stress hormone.
"The work is just the first step in potentially developing a blood test for identifying people at highest risk of harming themselves, says Kaminsky. "We are not going to recommend screening everybody," he says. "I don't think that makes sense." But among those at high risk of suicide, knowing that they also have a possible genetic tendency to react negatively to stress may help to them to get consistent support and more aggressive mental health services to help them cope with their stress and avoid more tragic outcomes.
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