Blood Biomarker Is Linked with Death

Those with higher levels of a particular molecule were found to be more likely to die of heart disease or cancer in the next dozen years.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011 By Emily Singer

Older people who had higher than normal levels of a molecule that helps regulate inflammation in their blood were more likely to die within the next 12 years, according to a study of nearly 2,000 people in Sweden.

It’s not yet clear whether measuring this chemical, cathepsin S, could help doctors predict risk of death or disease in individuals. But the findings may renew interest in cathepsin S as a drug target. A number of drugs that inhibit the normal functioning of the molecule are already in development for autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, and chronic pain.

The researchers studied two different groups of Swedes, each with an average age of about 70. Individuals were followed for eight to 12 years, during which nearly a quarter died. After controlling for other factors, such as age, weight, blood pressure, medications, and history of disease, cathepsin S levels were still linked to a greater risk of death.

In one of the two groups, those with the highest levels of the molecule had double the risk of dying during this time period than those with the lowest levels. In the second group, those with high levels of cathepsin S were more likely to die of two particular maladies: heart disease and cancer. The research was published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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