Predicting your end: Biomarkers for mortality

A blood biomarker called YKL-40, a small glycoprotein that is produced in diseases involving inflammation and tissue remodeling, could predict how long patients in the hospital have to live, whatever their diagnosis, according to a paper published in the Journal of Internal Medicine. This could lead to a screening test for all patients going into the hospital.

Patients and families often want to know what the outcome is likely to be when seriously ill people are admitted to the hospital because it will put their minds at rest or allow them to come to terms and make plans. The information could also help doctors and other healthcare professionals plan treatment and medication in the best interest of the patient.

The researchers, from a number of Copenhagen hospitals, collected blood from more than 1,400 adult patients admitted over a year, and tracked their diagnosis and mortality. The patients with the highest levels of YKL-40 were the most likely to die. The effect was similar for any diagnosis, and most significant in the first year. According to the researchers: "The level of YKL-40 at admission is a strong predictor of overall mortality, independent of diagnosis, and could be useful as a biomarker in the acute evaluation of all patients."

Another biomarker, a common gene variant, predicts whether you are a lark or an owl, and also whether you are likely to die in the morning or the evening.

Other mortality biomarker research is more than just for the birds. As reported in an article in the U.K. newspaper The Telegraph, researchers are using measurements of the telomeres (the "end caps" on the chromosomes that effectively stop them fraying) to predict longevity. Every time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter, and this is believed to predict the true biological age rather than the chronological age. The researchers have confirmed this by studying a population of songbirds in the Seychelles, finding that the birds that have the longest telomeres have the longest lifespans, and those with short or rapidly shortening telomeres are likely to die within the year. According to The Telegraph, this could lead to a human blood test, and, in fact, some companies are already offering these.

- see the abstract about YKL-40
- read the article about time of death markers
- check out the article about telomeres and birds