Health & wellness

Be Well

Blood test may predict suicide risk

Blood test may
predict suicide risk

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have identified a genetic marker linked to a person’s susceptibility to attempting suicide, which they say could be used to develop a blood test for suicide risk.

The scientists looked at brain samples from deceased mentally ill and healthy people and, in those who died by suicide, they found reduced activity levels of a gene called SKA2, which is involved in how well the body responds to stress. These same people were more likely to have a chemical change to the gene — the addition of methyl groups — which altered the way it functioned. The researchers then tested blood samples from 325 living participants and found the same alteration of SKA2 was more common in people who had suicidal thoughts or had attempted suicide.

Based on the levels of this chemical change in blood, the researchers were able to predict with at least 80 percent accuracy whether a person had suicidal thoughts or had harmed themselves.


A test using this method could identify military veterans and others at risk for suicide, the researchers wrote.

Get The Weekender in your inbox:
The Globe's top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

BOTTOM LINE: Chemical changes to a gene that is linked to the body’s stress response may predict a person’s risk of attempting suicide.

CAUTIONS: The study was small and the findings need to be replicated in a larger group.

WHERE TO FIND IT: American Journal of Psychiatry, July 30

New brain stimulation technique lifts mood quickly, study shows

A new type of magnetic stimulation of the brain may be a quick way to improve the mood of some patients with severe depression or bipolar disorder, McLean Hospital researchers found.


The study included 63 participants ages 18 to 65 who were diagnosed with major depressive or bipolar disorder and had been taking antidepressants or other mood-stabilizing medication for at least six weeks. About half received 20 minutes of low-field magnetic stimulation, while the others received a sham form of the therapy. Neither the participants nor those administering the treatment knew whether it was real or sham therapy. Both groups were asked to rate their moods before and after the treatment.

Participants who received the actual therapy were more likely to report an improvement in their mood immediately after their treatment, while those who did not receive the stimulation were more likely to report no change in their mood.

According to the researchers, low-field magnetic stimulation is faster acting and uses a lower-strength magnet — but at higher frequency — than other brain stimulation methods used to treat psychiatric disorders. No side effects were reported.

BOTTOM LINE: Low-field magnetic stimulation may be a fast-acting way to improve the mood of some patients with depression or bipolar disorder.

CAUTIONS: The study relied on self-reports of participants’ mood so the findings may not be accurate, and it did not examine how long the mood effect lasted.


WHERE TO FIND IT: Biological Psychiatry, Aug. 1