A new study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal finds that a simple blood test may be able to tell you whether or not you’ll be alive in five years.
It’s no crystal ball, but scientists and health professionals have relied upon biomarkers -cellular indicators of illness and chronic diseases- to check on changes in enzyme and protein expression that often accompany the progression of disease. And inflammatory biomarkers have been especially helpful in charting disease progression, as they provide key indication of infection and the development of chronic diseases like cancer, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Indeed, researchers have found that inflammatory biomarkers can be accurate predictors of mortality, both in the short-term and long-term.
And while a number of biomarkers have been already identified, work is still needed to determine which ones do the best job at prediction. In the new study, researchers at the Hôpital universitaire Paul-Brousse, Ville-juif, France, and the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, UK, compared the efficacy of a group of inflammatory biomarkers: interleukin-6 (IL-6), C-reactive protein (CRP) and alpha1-acid glycoprotein (AGP).
The team looked at blood samples from 6,545 men and women aged 45 to 69, taken between 1997 and 1999, and then charted the subjects’ medical progress over the next 16.7 years. 736 deaths occurred over that period, with 181 deaths caused by cardiovascular disease and 347 from cancer. Contrary to a previous study which saw AGP to be the strongest predictor of mortality over the short-term – and thus, the better biomarker – researchers now found IL-6 to be the more accurate predictor over both the short- and long-term.
“When we considered all covariates and biomarkers simultaneously, AGP no longer predicted all-cause mortality over the entire follow-up period,” say the study’s authors. “Only IL-6 predicted all-cause mortality and cancer-related mortality over the entire follow-up period, whereas CRP predicted only cardiovascular mortality.”
The authors see their work as significant for future management of disease and patient care, as a clearer understanding of the predictive capabilities of various biomarkers, especially in general population settings, could help with screening and disease prevention programs.
“Research on biomarkers is progressing fast, and it is important to undertake checks like in the one in our study, to shape future research on biomarkers,” says study co-author, Archana Singh-Manoux of the University College London.
The clinical use of biomarkers is part of a new wave in health care called personalized medicine which focuses on disease treatment tailored to the specifics of the individual. Typically, the approach relies on analysis of a person’s genetic makeup as well as certain readings on a cellular level, such as inflammatory biomarkers. Personalized medicine is becoming a feature of psychological care, too. The Canadian Biomarker Integration Network in Depression (CAN-BIND) at the Ontario Brain Institute is currently undertaking a nation-wide study to isolate objective biomarkers which can accurately predict depression relapse in major depressive disorder.