IU School of Medicine Breakthrough could help prevent suicide

INDIANAPOLIS, IN --A new breakthrough from  the IU School of Medicine is helping mental health professionals identify people at risk for suicide.

The team led by Dr. Alexander Niculescu is achieving their results through the use of a two pronged approach involving a mobile app and a blood test.

“Each of them are predictive and when you combine them you get a very high predictive ability,”  Niculescu said.

The app works by asking the user a series of questions, none of which are actually about suicide. The app then develops the answers into a “score”. Mental health professionals can then use that score to identify specific suicide risks or other mental health issues.

“In many ways it’s like a fico score for suicide, or like a credit score for suicide,” Niculescu said.

The second stage of the breakthrough involves a groundbreaking blood test that Niculescu developed.  Niculescu’s test builds on previous studies which identifies so called “bio-markers” within the blood that correlate with suicidality.

“It’s over 90 percent predictive in terms of somebody being in a high suicide ideation state. And it’s close to 80 percent predictive if they’re going to have future events like suicide attempts,” Niculescu said.

Niculescu says the best part of the developments is that it has proven to be successful in all types of people.  The test also allows researchers to personalize a precise course of drug therapies  for treatment and prevention, including natural substances.

Niculescu’s work is catching some attention.

After hearing about the work Niculescu and his team was doing, Indiana National Guard state psychologist Dr. Scott Edwards became interested in seeing if using the app would help diagnosed any soldiers or airmen with mental health issues.

“We’re trying to figure out who needs resources and how can we find those people in a timely manner,” Edwards said.

Using a blind study of previous suicide cases, and the cases of those who admitted to thinking about suicide, Edwards tested out the apps effectiveness.  He says the results spoke for themselves.

“We found that it perfectly or very nearly perfectly predicted group membership,”  he said.

Now Edwards thinks the app can be used to help those who serve their country.

“Can we reduce our suicide number to zero? That’s the ultimate goal for us. And this gets us a little closer I think,” Edwards said.

While the Indiana National Guard is still testing the app, Edwards says the results look promising so far. Edwards says that so many service men and women suffer with mental health issues in silence. So he hopes that the app will help bridge the gap.

This app and this scale we’ve been testing, promises to help us get to these folks in time. And that’s the exciting piece,” Edwards said.

Niculescu says it may be 2 years before the app and blood tests are used on a wide basis.  However it is his goal to have both become options for any mental health professional or primary care doctor.

“In the long term my dream would be that these would be used as screening approaches for the population at large, you’d be at your doctor’s office completing health questionnaires on a tablet and one of them would be the suicide risk questionnaire,” he said.

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