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February 28th, 2014 (VOA) Researchers have developed a blood test that can predict the likelihood that you will die in five years. The controversial “death test” needs more work before it can be used by medical professionals, and public health officials.
The test identifies four protein and metabolic markers which everyone has in their blood. By measuring the specific levels and relative amounts, scientists come up with a ‘score’ that predicts the risk of death from all causes, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other natural causes.
Most striking, the biomarkers predict short-term mortality risk in generally healthy subjects with no known disease.
In a study involving more than 17,000 people in Finland and Estonia, scientists screened blood samples for more than 100 proteins, identifying those that are known indicators of mortality risk.
Five years later, in a follow-up study of health registries, they found that individuals with a certain combination of the four biomarkers were up to five times more likely than the general population to have died. In the Estonian sample, one in five people with the highest biomarker score died in the first year of follow-up.
Johannes Kettunen is a researcher at the University of Helsinki in Finland. Writing in the journal PLoS Medicine, he says it is not really a “death test,” as some people are calling it.
“These are not deterministic, of course,” he said. “They are just indicators of risk for each individual.”
Kettunen says more research is needed to identify which indicators or combination of biomarkers point to specific causes of death. Until then, he says the blood test is not very useful and could even be harmful.
He adds a blood analysis that only predicts short-term mortality raises moral questions.
“If we can not do anything for the higher risk, even I would not want to know that I was at higher risk [of death], because there is nothing that can be done,” he says.
Ideally, the blood analysis will be used to prevent early death by narrowing the causes and pointing toward health interventions. Kettunen predicts a specific test could be available for use by doctors and other clinicians in five years.