Are you in general healthy? Are you free of the major risk factors for near term death (smoking, obesity, excess alcohol, lack of exercise, poor diet lacking in fruit and vegetables)? Do you want to know if you have an excess risk of dying in the next five years for some unknown reason? Or, on the other hand, the test may show your relative risk is very low.
Those are just some of the intriguing questions raised by a recent article on the use of a biomarker test that was able to find a 19 acts excess rate of mortality using just four biomarkers found in old, preserved blood samples. The researchers readily admit they do not understand the reasons for the outcome, but the outcome was achieved twice in two independent groups. The story is online.
Takeaways? There are lots of "biobanks" out there in the sense that lots of medical institutions have old collections of tissue, blood and other bodily fluids. Researchers today are able to draw on vast amounts of data to find associations never before seen, and are using new techniques for analysis. Therefore, unexpected new information can arise without much warning. Overall, a challenge now is to understand the reasons for results, and how, why and whether they truly matter. Here's an excerpt from the article:
"What were the basic results?
There were 508 deaths in the Estonian sample and 176 deaths in the Finnish sample.
Four biomarkers were identified that predicted the risk of all-cause mortality, after adjusting for HDL cholesterol, smoking status and whether they had any diagnosed conditons:
increased levels of Alpha-1-acid glycoprotein (a protein that is raised during infection and inflammation)
reduced levels of albumin (a protein that carries vital nutrients, hormones and proteins in the bloodstream)
reduced levels of very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) particle size (usually known for being “very bad” cholesterol)
increased levels of citrate (a compound that is an essential part of the body’s metabolism)
These biomarkers were also predictors of death from “cardiovascular causes”, “cancer” and “other causes”.
When all four levels were added together to get a biomarker summary score, 15.3% of people in the top 20% of the sample died within five years, compared to 0.8% in the bottom 20%. This means those in the top 20% had a relative risk of dying that was 19 times higher than those in the bottom 20%.
There were no notable differences between men and women in terms of the results."