A technique developed by researchers in Finland and Estonia could pinpoint individuals with a high risk of dying within as few as five years by examining their blood.
Scientists screened more than 17,000 samples looking for biomarkers, or biological indicators of abnormalities, that were present in the blood of people who had died not long after their blood was drawn. The study, which was published in PLOS Medicine, used a cost-effective method of screening mass amounts of blood called NMR Spectroscopy.
Four biomarkers — albumin, alpha-1-acid glycoprotein, citrate and the size of low-density lipoprotein particles — indicated an overall weakness of the body. These molecules can present in any person's blood, but the sheer volume made researchers take note.
"What is especially interesting is that these biomarkers reflect the risk of dying from very different types of diseases such as heart disease or cancer," the University of Helsinki's Johannes Kettunen, a lead author of the study, said in a statement. "Next, we aim to study whether some kind of connecting factor between these biomarkers can be identified."
Researchers also examined other factors that could have led to early deaths, such as age, weight, tobacco and alcohol use, cholesterol levels and pre-existing illnesses. The original connection among the four biomarkers and risk of short-term death, however, held steady even when considering these circumstances.
Future applications of this research could include identifying people who seem healthy but may have underlying illnesses — an opportunity to implement preventative treatment — but more studies are neccesary before the findings are ready for clinical use.