Scientists have developed a blood test that could predict your chances of death within the next few years.
Predicting your chances of dying might sound like a morbid undertaking, as if you’re trying to find a free date in the diary for a dance with the Grim Reaper, but this knowledge could potentially be used to postpone that fateful curtain call by helping people make better lifestyle choices and guiding the treatments they receive.
Scientists led by the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Germany found 14 biomarkers in the blood that are independently associated with death in people of all ages, as reported in the journal Nature Communications yesterday.
Armed with this knowledge, they then made predictions about a person's risk of death within the next five to 10 years. Their predictions proved to be considerably more accurate than the ones made through conventional methods, such as measuring blood pressure and cholesterol.
"As researchers on aging, we are keen to determine the biological age. The calendar age just doesn't say very much about the general state of health of elderly people: one 70-year-old is healthy, while another may already be suffering from three diseases," study director Professor Eline Slagboom said in a statement.
"We now have a set of biomarkers which may help to identify vulnerable elderly people, who could subsequently be treated."
The team studied the metabolic biomarkers found in the blood of 44,000 people aged 18 to 109 across Europe. These biomarkers were known to be involved in various processes including fatty acid metabolism, fluid balance, the breakdown of glucose, and inflammation. The team then carried out a follow-up study with the same participants, ranging from three to 17 years later (during which time over 5,500 participants died), and looked to find out how the presence of the different biomarkers was associated with the risk of mortality.
“Biomarkers give us important insight into what’s happening in health and in disease,” Dr Amanda Heslegrave, a researcher at University College London's Dementia Research Institute, who was not directly involved in the study, commented on the research.
“In this new study, a number of the markers are validated and implicated in long-term mortality and the authors suggest that more could be, which would be a worthwhile exercise."
However, as the researchers themselves concede, Dr Heslegrave added that further work needs to be carried out before this research has real practical uses. For one, the study primarily looked at Europeans, so it’s unclear how definitively the same results can apply to other ethnic groups.
“Whilst this study shows this type of profiling can be useful, they do point out importantly it would need further work to develop a score at the individual level that would be useful in real-life situations,” Dr Heslegrave continued.
"So, it's an exciting step, but it's not ready yet."