A single blood test could tell whether an otherwise healthy person is likely to die of pneumonia or sepsis within the next 14 years, scientists say.
Based on an analysis of 10,000 individuals, researchers have identified a molecular byproduct of inflammation, called GlycA, which seems to predict premature death due to infections.
The findings suggest that high GlycA levels in the blood indicate a state of chronic inflammation that may arise from low-level chronic infection or an overactive immune response.
That inflammation damages the body, which likely renders individuals more susceptible to severe infections.
"As biomedical researchers, we want to help people, and there are few more important things I can think of than identifying apparently healthy individuals who might actually be at increased risk of disease and death," said co-senior author Michael Inouye, of the University of Melbourne.
"We want to short-circuit that risk, and to do that we need to understand what this blood biomarker of disease risk is actually telling us," he said.
Inouye and his colleagues noted that additional studies are needed to uncover the mechanisms involved in GlycA’s link to inflammation and premature death, and whether testing for GlycA levels in the clinic might someday be warranted.
"We still have a lot of work ahead to understand if we can modify the risk in some way," said co-senior author Johannes Kettunen, of the University of Oulu and the National Institute for Health and Welfare, in Finland.
The findings are published in the journal Cell Systems.