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Could a Blood Test Predict Suicide Risk?
Date:7/30/2014

WEDNESDAY, July 30, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Clues to whether a person is at risk for suicide could lie in a simple blood test, a new study suggests.

Chemical changes to a gene involved in the brain's response to stress hormones may help spur suicidal thoughts and behaviors, the study's authors explained. Spotting those changes in a blood sample might help alert doctors to a patient's risk for suicide, they said.

"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," study lead researcher Zachary Kaminsky, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a university news release.

"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," he said.

In the study, which was partially funded by the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, the researchers analyzed genetic mutations in a gene known as SKA2. As the researchers explained, the SKA2 gene is expressed in a part of the brain that is responsible for blocking negative thoughts and controlling impulsive behavior. The gene is also essential for moving stress hormone receptors that suppress the release of the "stress hormone" cortisol throughout the brain.

If SKA2 is changed in some way, these stress hormone receptors are unable to do their job, Kaminsky's team said. Previous studies have shown that cortisol release is often not working properly in people who think about or attempt suicide, the researchers explained.

After comparing the brains of patients with mental illness to the brains of healthy people, researchers found that those who committed suicide had significantly lower SKA2 levels.

Within this common gene mutation, the study also revealed some of the
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