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Monday, May 27
The Indiana Daily Student

academics & research

Research may yield blood test to predict suicide

Indianapolis researchers from the IU School of Medicine are working to develop a blood test that would identify patients at risk of impulsive suicidal behavior.

The test would indicate whether or not a patient is at risk depending on how high the biomarkers register in blood work, said Dr. Alexander Niculescu III, who served as the principal investigator throughout the research process.

“Our intent is to develop a general test,” Niculescu said in an email between meetings Wednesday. “Suicidality does not occur only in people with bipolar disorder or people with psychiatric disorders. It is broader than that.”

It all started with a field analysis. Niculescu  and his team of researchers monitored a large group of patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder during a span of three years, conducting interviews and collecting blood samples every three to six months.

The blood samples came from a subset of participants reporting a shift from no suicidal thoughts to suicidal ideation. From there, researchers were able to pinpoint the differences between “low” and “high” states of suicidal thoughts, according to the study.

Then, with the cooperation of the Marion County Coroner’s Office, researchers collected blood samples from cadavers of suicide victims and compared results to two additional patient groups.

An enzyme called SAT1 provided the strongest signal consistent with suicidal thoughts. When amounts of SAT1 are elevated, research indicates this is indicative of an association with suicidal tendencies.

A bulk of the research subjects, Niculescu said, were recruited out of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which “has a primarily male population.”

For now, only male subjects have been used in the research.

“There could be gender differences, so we just focused on one gender at a time,” Niculescu said, adding that there are definite plans to expand research efforts to include female subjects.

Niculescu said the team is also poised to conduct “larger normative studies in the population” to identify a range of these markers in different ethnic groups as well.

If research initiatives are successful, the general public can expect the blood test to be available in the next five or so years, he said.

“We plan to study other high-risk groups, such as people with major depressive disorder,” Niculescu said.

In addition, the team is working to create socio-demographic checklists and tests that even further assist in identifying at-risk patients.

But as Niculescu said, there are other factors to be taken into consideration when trying to evaluate which patients are at risk.

Nancy Stockton, the director of Counseling and Psychological Services at the IU Health Center, agreed that there are several pieces to the puzzle when it comes to treating such patients.

“Suicide is a pretty complex phenomenon,” Stockton said. “I think because of the complexity, these other factors would very much so need to be considered.”

The research by Niculescu’s team, she added, is a step in the right direction.
Stockton has used group treatment for students adjusting to bipolar disorder throughout their college careers.

“The more you know, the more you can educate people, and people can do the self-care things they need to do to have more understanding of the convergence of factors that may put them very much at risk,” Stockton said.

Follow reporter Michael Majchrowicz on Twitter @mjmajchrowicz.

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