Not everyone wants to know when they're going to die, but one group of researchers is attempting to build a future where we might have that option — and it's arriving via blood tests.
Joris Deelen, postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the Biology of Aging, and P. Eline Slagboom, head of molecular epidemiology at Leiden University Medical Center, are leading a team that has already studied over 44,000 healthy participants. Of that number, nearly 80 percent received blood tests that accurately predicted mortality risk within five to 10 years.
Deelen and Slagboom's study was published in Nature Communications, which described blood tests as being the most likely avenue for such a test given that blood samples are easy to obtain and are routinely handled in labs.
“We want to tackle the vulnerability of people’s health that is hidden and that doctors cannot see from the outside,” Slagboom said to Time magazine. “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.”
The patients researchers studed ranged in age from 18 to 109 years old. All of them provided blood samples and had their health events tracked for up to 16 years.
Researchers then analyzed a group of 226 so-called metabolites, or by-products of things that various cells and tissues in the body pour into the blood stream for circulation and removal, as Time ponts out.
From there, the team narrowed down the list to 14, which, along with other individual markers, give a decent idea of health risk and their risk of dying in the next five to 10 years.
Ultimately, the outcome was determined when researchers compared those who died during the study to those who did not — as well as isolating which agents in their blood differed to statistically significant amounts, notes Time.
Deelen and Slagboom admit that the test is not ready for doctors to administer in clinics, however they do note this kind of revolution in blood testing could be a foundation for important health tests down the road — specifically to guide treatment for older people, and perhaps those living with HIV.
The 14 metabolites included things like the breakdown of fat and glucose, inflammation and fluid balance in the body, both of which impact a range of chronic illnesses, as well as a person’s ability to recover from illness or injury.
This kind of data is useful, and researchers across the country are seeing it as a leaping point to expand even further. For example, as Time reports, "one study at Leiden University is looking at whether the test can predict which people with kidney failure are more likely to develop dementia or side effects like delirium as a result of their treatment; this information could help doctors to better adjust dosage and treatment decisions."
A test like this will do wonders for people living with HIV in regards to treatment options. Though the possibilities are endless, the test itself is only the beginning of what could be a more personalized system for doctors to treat their patients.