Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

New blood test accurately predicts when people will die — within 5–10 years

The large-scale study got it right for 83 percent of participants. Would you take the blood test?

Photo credit: Miguel Bruna on Unsplash
  • A research team found 14 biomarkers can accurately predict death within 5–10 years.
  • Such a test could help doctors and researchers prescribe better courses of treatments for patients.
  • Information about mortality might inspire people to eat better and exercise more, thus reversing the effects of some biomarkers.

Portending the future has long been a preoccupation of our species. Whether fortune or destruction, for millennia our greatest myths foretell wars and romances (which of course are easy to write in hindsight). Still, fortune tellers and astrologers remain in business — we love to pretend we have a futuristic telescope. Even the most mundane of possible activities pique our curiosity.

Some uncover the future in tea leaves, others with yarrow sticks. What about our blood? What if getting routine blood work could clue us in on our end? That's what a team of data scientists from across Europe (with the research based in the Netherlands) are proposing. Their new study, published in the journal Nature Communications, discovered that by measuring 14 metabolic substances they could accurately predict who would die in the coming years.

A broad poll with 44,168 participants and baseline ages from 18–109, data was collected over the course of 17 years. The team, led by Leiden University molecular epidemiologist Eline Slagboom, notes that determining death within a year is basic science at this point. Guessing it from five to 10 years out is a different challenge, one they believe they've started to understand thanks to the constitution of our blood.

Forget Counting Steps. Quantifying Health Will Save Your Life.

Using a "well-standardized metabolomics platform," the team began with 226 metabolic biomakers, discovering 136 that show an association with all-cause mortality. They eventually landed on 14, including blood sugar levels; inflammation markers; HDL, a common cholesterol marker; albumin, a protein produced by your liver that clues you in on kidney or liver problems; acetoacetate, a beta-keto acid normally used to test diabetics for ketoacidosis (as well as monitoring people on ketogenic diets); and isoleucine, an amino acid that can ultimately lead to damaged brain cells and death.

Of the initial population sample, 5,512 died during the testing period. Using the biomarkers for another survey, the team predicted death rates from a participant pool of 7,603 Finnish people initially tested in 1997. They were able to predict with 83 percent accuracy who would die over the five to 10 year period. One caveat: when testing those over 60 years of age, the prediction rate dropped to 72 percent. Another: the pool was entirely comprised of Finns. Extrapolating to apply to the global population raises eyebrows.

Still, given that this test includes popular and broadly applied biomarker tests for cardiovascular, cancer, and inflammation issues, all of which are known causes of mortality regardless of ethnicity, using this blood profile could clue doctors in on the expected longevity of their patients.

While aware of the study's limitations, the team feels it provides a potentially useful platform for determining overall health. As they write,

"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."

Early morning joggers enjoy the wooden paths that go the length of Moonstone Beach next to Moonstone Beach Drive which parallels Highway 1 in northern Cambria, California.

Photo credit: Paul Harris / Getty Images

The question is: do patients want to know? There are two potential problems with such knowledge.

First off, existential dread. Armed with an awareness that death is imminent, the participant could spiral into depression. At the same time, they could also be inspired to live more in the moment and appreciate every day. More importantly, if some of these markers are reversible (such as inflammation or cholesterol markers) they could take action to eat better and exercise more. If it takes the sound of a death rattle to awaken them to their unavoidable mortality, such a test could have positive effects.

The second is insidious though feasible: if insurance companies gain access to these tests, they could refuse or end coverage for those on the brink of death. As the AARP reported last year, the most Medicare dollars are spent in the last year of a person's life. Given how close one political party has come to overturning the pre-existing conditions clause in the Affordable Care Act, this biomarker test could ultimately serve insurance and pharmaceutical companies instead of patients.

Even contemplating such a scenario is tragic, yet that's where we are in America. Fortunately the Netherlands-based team provided this research for more useful ends, such as arming us with a better test for understanding how healthy we actually are and how much we should worry about it. We will all face death, some with more warning than others. Best to use such knowledge to pursue a healthier lifestyle.

--

Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook.

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
Keep reading Show less

CRISPR-edited babies born in China may have enhanced brain functions

The brains of two genetically edited babies born last year in China might have enhanced memory and cognition, but that doesn't mean the scientific community is pleased.

YouTube
Surprising Science
  • In November, Chinese scientist He Jiankui reported that he'd used the CRISPR tool to edit the embryos of two girls.
  • He deleted a gene called CCR5, which allows humans to contract HIV, the virus which causes AIDS.
  • In addition to blocking AIDS, deleting this gene might also have positive effects on memory and cognition. Still, virtually all scientists say we're not ready to use gene-editing technology on babies.
Keep reading Show less

Dinosaur bone? Meteorite? These men's wedding bands are a real break from boredom.

Manly Bands wanted to improve on mens' wedding bands. Mission accomplished.

Sex & Relationships
  • Manly Bands was founded in 2016 to provide better options and customer service in men's wedding bands.
  • Unique materials include antler, dinosaur bones, meteorite, tungsten, and whiskey barrels.
  • The company donates a portion of profits to charity every month.
Keep reading Show less

What if Middle-earth was in Pakistan?

Iranian Tolkien scholar finds intriguing parallels between subcontinental geography and famous map of Middle-earth.

Could this former river island in the Indus have inspired Tolkien to create Cair Andros, the ship-shaped island in the Anduin river?

Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission
Strange Maps
  • J.R.R. Tolkien hinted that his stories are set in a really ancient version of Europe.
  • But a fantasy realm can be inspired by a variety of places; and perhaps so is Tolkien's world.
  • These intriguing similarities with Asian topography show that it may be time to 'decolonise' Middle-earth.
Keep reading Show less
Surprising Science

Giant whale sharks have teeth on their eyeballs

The ocean's largest shark relies on vision more than previously believed.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast