A Genetic Test for Suicide Risk

Suicide runs in families, and that's why the U.S. Centers for Disease Control lists "family history" as the number one risk factor for suicide. Now biotech companies have taken this information seriously enough to investigate the heritable component of suicide, and develop a genetic test for it.

Antonio Regalato writes in Technology Review:

Sundance Diagnostics, based in Boulder, Colorado, says it will begin offering a suicide risk test to doctors next month, but only in connection with patients taking antidepressant drugs like Prozac and Zoloft.

The Sundance test rests on research findings reported by the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in 2012. The German researchers, based in Munich, scanned the genes of 898 people taking antidepressants and identified 79 genetic markers they claimed together had a 91 percent probability of correctly predicting "suicidal ideation," or imagining the act of suicide.

As researchers dig into the genetic roots of the problem, they're also finding that suicide isn't the result of psychological difficulties like depression. Regalato continues:

Altogether, epidemiologists believe that 30 percent to 55 percent of the risk that someone takes their own life is inherited, and the risk isn't linked to any specific mental illness, like depression or schizophrenia.

That means suicide probably has its own unique genetic causes, says Stella Dracheva, a pathologist who studies the brains of suicide victims at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

What this means is that it's possible a person might have a predisposition for suicide, but not for depression — and vice versa.

Scientists warn that there may never be a genetic test for suicide risk. But the better we understand what drives people to suicide, the closer we get to figuring out how best to intervene and offer help before it's too late.

Read the full article at Technology Review