Researchers find blood 'biomarkers' can predict future disabilities

University of East Anglia. Picture: EDP Library

University of East Anglia. Picture: EDP Library - Credit: Archant

Blood tests for ‘biomarkers’ such as cholesterol and inflammation could predict whether a person will be disabled in five years, researchers in Norwich say.

A new study from the University of East Anglia (UEA) shows how people’s biological health can predict disability and healthcare demand in five years' time.

But the researchers also found that people on higher incomes were more likely to seek GP appointments and outpatient treatments for their medical problems.

Dr Apostolos Davillas, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “We know that the poorest people in England miss out on more than a decade of good health compared with the richest.

“We wanted to find out more about the links between people’s social status and their future health - and see whether blood tests could predict future disability and use of health care services.”

The researchers looked at elevated bloodstream ‘biomarkers’ – these are the tell-tale markers linked to different diseases, and they are an objective measure of health.

The researchers studied blood biomarkers from 5,286 participants involved in Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study.

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They looked at things like cholesterol, liver and kidney function and inflammation – the body’s response to infections or chronic stress.

They also looked at measures of obesity, grip strength, resting heart rate, blood pressure and lung function.

Dr Davillas said: “What we found is that underlying biomarker differences are linked with future disability – and that we could actually predict people’s level of disability in five years' time, based on biomarkers in their blood.

“We also found that people’s biological health is linked with future demand on healthcare services such as GP and outpatient consultations, as well as time spent in hospital."

They found that markers which matter most for disability progression are linked with lung function, grip strength, obesity, anaemia, stress-related hormones and liver function.

They said their research found a broader set of blood-based biomarkers should be considered for NHS public health screening programmes.

The research was co-authored by Dr Davillas at UEA with Prof Stephen Pudney from the University of Sheffield.