Scientists find 14 biomarkers associated with dying from any cause

What if you could take a simple blood test that tells you whether or not you’re at risk of dying in the next 5 to 10 years? Indeed, this sort of test would be truly life-saving, enabling people to make immediate lifestyle changes or quickly enter therapy in order to stave off the grim prognosis — and this “all-cause mortality” blood test isn’t actually that far away from reality.

A team of Dutch researchers at Leiden University led by Eline Slagboom found 14 biomarkers that are independently associated with mortality in people of all ages. When combined, they reveal an index or risk score that reflects a person’s chance of dying in the near future.

“Robust predictors of intermediate- and long-term mortality may be valuable instruments in clinical trials and medical decision-making,” the authors wrote in the journal Nature Communications.

“The associations of these biomarkers were consistent in men and women and across age strata. The identified biomarkers represent general health up to the highest ages rather than specific disease-related death causes. In combination, these biomarkers clearly improve risk prediction of 5- and 10-year mortality as compared to conventional risk factors across all ages.”

The results are based on data from biobanks around the world, involving more than 44,000 individuals aged 18 to 109. During the study’s follow-up, nearly 5,500 participants died.

By examining the data, the researchers were able to figure out which biomarkers were most strongly associated with potential mortality — a prime example is glucose. However, some of the markers can be used to evaluate overall health. For instance, the ratio of polyunsaturated fats to total fatty acids is associated with decreased mortality.

Ultimately, the researchers tested the predictive ability of these biomarkers on people of different age groups. Their model suggests that the 14 biomarkers more accurately predict the 5- to 10-year mortality risk than other methods.

Finding out that there are good odds you’ll die in the next five years sounds horrible. For this reason, it’s understandable why many would choose to stay clear of such a test. However, in a medical context, a mortality risk blood test could mean the difference between carrying out a risky surgery and employing some other avenue of treatment for fragile patients.

In the future, the Dutch researchers would like to test how their biomarker score influences patient outcome.

“The currently used metabolomics platform can be incorporated in ongoing clinical studies to explore its value, opening up new avenues for research to establish the utility of metabolic biomarkers in clinical settings,” the authors concluded.

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