A blood test for death

Would you be prepared to have a blood test that could predict your death within a range of five to 10 years?

That option could be on the table in years to come.

A new paper published in Nature Communications reports that in a group of more than 44,000 healthy patients, a blood test was about 80 per cent accurate in predicting the risk of mortality within five to 10 years.

The patients, ranged in age from 18 to 109, provided regular blood samples and had their health tracked for up to 16 years. The research team, led by Dr Joris Deelen, postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the Biology of Ageing in Germany, and Professor P Eline Slagboom, head of molecular epidemiology at Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, analysed blood samples, focusing on a group of 226 metabolites – the by-products that cells and tissues pour into the bloodstream for circulation and removal.

The research team narrowed the list to 14 markers that they determined could provide a good picture of each person’s health risk and, by association, their risk of dying in the next five to 10 years, Time magazine reports.

The researchers compared those who died during the study to those who did not and isolated which agents in the blood differed in statistically significant amounts. The link between the final 14 factors and mortality remained strong even after they accounted for potential confounding factors that also affect survival, such as age, sex and cause of death.

“We want to tackle the vulnerability of people’s health that is hidden and that doctors cannot see from the outside,” said Prof. Slagboom.

“I am still surprised by the fact that in a group of people, you can take one blood sample at one point of time in their life, and that would say anything meaningful about their five to 10-year mortality risk.”

Dr Deelen and Prof. Slagboom stress that the test is not yet ready for doctors to use in the clinic with their patients, but that it does establish a strong foundation.

They say that such a test could help shape and guide treatment decisions in older patients.

Researchers at Leiden University are continuing to study the results to determine whether the test can help doctors predict which patients with hip fractures are more likely to develop complications after surgery.

Another study is looking at whether the test can predict which people with kidney failure are more likely to develop dementia or side-effects such as delirium as a result of their treatment. The information could help doctors better adjust dosage and treatment decisions, they say.

The researchers are hoping to work with large databanks around the world to further validate the findings.

“We see this as a foundation,” says Prof. Slagboom. “We do not see this test as an endpoint.”

Would you like to know if you were going to die within five to 10 years? Would it help you make decisions about your later life?

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Written by Janelle Ward

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