According to Johns Hopkins researchers, “Alterations to a single gene could predict risk of suicide.” This chemical alteration due to reactions to stress, if confirmed in a larger study, could give doctor’s a reliable way to predict someone’s risk of suicide.
According the the American Journal of Psychiatry, this discovery concerns a slight change in a gene that is associated with how the brain reacts to stress hormones. This change is this gene can play a serious role in how the brain might react to a somewhat unremarkable event.. and end up changing that reaction into suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
According to assistant professor of psychiatry, Zachary Kaminsky, Ph.D., at Johns Hopkins University, suicide has always been a major public health problem, however, we have never had a consistent way to help treat it due to the difficult nature in how to predict it’s onset. But, he goes on to say, “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.”
The study included focusing on a mutated gene called SKA2. For those who had died from suicide, versus healthy people, the levels of SKA2 in the suicide candidates was much lower.
In another part of the study, three different sets of blood samples were taken from participants at John Hopkins Center. The largest group of people consisted of 325 participants. Another similarity was drawn in suicidal candidates where methylation levels were also increased in SKA2. Furthermore, they created a model analysis in attempt to predict those who were experiencing suicidal thoughts. They were 80% accurate at predicting these candidates in an oder age group and 96% accurate at predicting this in the youngest data group.
The SKA2 gene shows up in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which helps to control negative thoughts and impulsive behavior. Specifically, SKA2 helps “chaperone” stress hormone receptors into the nucleus of cells so they can perform their job. Without enough SKA2, stress hormone receptors are not able to suppress the release of cortisol into the brain. And suicidal candidates show a lack of this cortisol release throughout the brain.
What’s the Benefit of These Findings?
The benefit of this, says Kaminsky, is that this type of blood test may be used to help predict future attempts of suicide in such candidates. It could also be used in safety assesments for such things as the need for hospitalization, and how closely that candidate needs to be monitored, as well as something as significant as performing this on military members to know how vulnerable they are. Lastly, it can also play a huge role in assessing which drugs to administer to patients and limiting those that can pertain to having suicidal thoughts.
All in all, this is a hugely positive step for the future of medicine and how we can better look after patients and have more insight on treating them for their needs.