Here are some findings that could scare you to death: In a study published this week, Finnish and Estonian researchers report that they have identified specific levels of four chemicals circulating in the blood that offer a reliable signal that death is near. The four harbingers of death can be readily detected in a blood sample, and are even predictive when seen in apparently healthy people, their new study shows.
It’s not just a life insurance salesman’s dream. The study, released this week in the journal PLOS Medicine, suggests that several potentially deadly conditions — cancer, cardiovascular disease and a welter of non-vascular causes of death — may share signs, and even origins, that have been hidden in plain sight. If readily detectable physiological clues–called “biomarkers”–could give warning of many dangerous conditions at once, a single blood test might provide a person early warning of a deadly threat, while it could still be averted (or at least delayed).
That said, a blood test to predict death is far from ready for prime time. This is an early effort to glean better ways to screen for and diagnose diseases, not to give notice that the Grim Reaper is stalking you.
For now, however, the “death biomarkers” might make you think twice before giving up a vial of your blood. The four horseman of an individual’s apocalypse were narrowed down from a list of 106 candidate biomarkers–all lipids, proteins and metabolites circulating in the blood. They are: alpha-1-acid glycoprotein, albumin, very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) particle size, and citrate.
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