Every 40 seconds someone in the world commits suicide. But a new discovery in the US by Johns Hopkins University researchers could help lower this statistic.
The researchers analysed 150 brain samples of deceased mentally ill and healthy people, including some of patients who had committed suicide. They discovered that all of those who had taken their lives had a mutation in the SKA2 gene.
This gene is expressed in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, and it determines how the brain reacts to stress hormones such as cortisol.
“If the gene’s function is impaired by a chemical change,” explains Caelainn Hogan from the Washington Post, “someone who is stressed won’t be able to shut down the effect of the stress hormone, which would be like having a faulty brake pad in a car for the fear centre of the brain, worsening the impact of even everyday stress.”
To confirm their results, the scientists analysed blood samples of 325 participants in the Johns Hopkins Center for Prevention Research Study, and found that those who had suicidal thoughts or had tried to commit suicide presented chemical alterations in the SKA2 gene.
And their blood test predicted with 80 to 90 percent accuracy whether a person had suicidal thoughts or had made an attempt to take their own life.
"We have found a gene that we think could be really important for consistently identifying a range of behaviours from suicidal thoughts to attempts to completions," psychiatrist and behavioural scientist Zachary Kaminsky, lead author of the study, said in a news release. "We need to study this in a larger sample but we believe that we might be able to monitor the blood to identify those at risk of suicide."
This study, which was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, will help in the development of a blood tests that could predict if a person has mutations in the SKA2 gene and is prone to excess levels of stress and anxiety, which may lead to suicidal thoughts or attempts.