Would you take the 'death test'? Simple blood test predicts chances of dying within five years

Scientists say new screening technology reveals a signature of mortality

Heather Saul@heatheranne9
Wednesday 26 February 2014 17:26
blood samples
blood samples

A simple blood test could be enough to predict if a person is likely to die within the next five years – even if they are healthy.

Scientists from Finland and Estoniaclaim said they have now created a “death test” to predict the chances a person has of dying from a medical condition.

The blood test identifies four biological markers that strongly indicate the risk of dying from any disease within the near future.

A biomarker is a biological molecule, gene or characteristic that may be used to identify a biological state, condition or disease.

Blood samples taken from over 17,000 generally healthy participants were screened for more than a hundred different biomolecules. Their health was monitored for the next five years.

Of the 17,000 participants, 684 died during that period from a range of illnesses, including cancer and heart disease. The scientists found that all of the deceased had similar levels of four biomarkers - albumin; alpha-1-acid glycoprotein; citrate, and a similar size of very-low-density lipoprotein particles.

One in five participants with the highest biomarker scores died within the first year of the study.

Dr Johannes Kettunen, of the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland, said: “What is especially interesting is that these biomarkers reflect the risk for dying from very different types of diseases such as heart disease or cancer. They seem to be signs of a general frailty in the body.”

The team are now looking to study whether some kind of connecting factor between these biomarkers can be identified.

“We believe that in the future these measures can be used to identify people who appear healthy but in fact have serious underlying illnesses and guide them to proper treatment. More studies are, however, needed before these findings can be implemented in clinical practice.”

Estonian researchers initially made the link from a group of 9,842 people and asked Finnish scientists to repeat the experiment on a further 7,503.

Research professor Markus Perola of the Institute for Health and Welfare, Finland told The Telegraph they were not expecting to be able to replicate the findings and were amazed when they were identical.

Prof Perola said: “It was a pretty amazing result. First of all we didn’t really believe it. It was astonishing that these biomarkers appeared to actually predict mortality independent of disease.

“These were all apparently healthy people but to our surprise it appears these biomarkers show an undetected frailty which people did not know they had.”

The study was published in the PLOS Medicine journal today.

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