GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A lab inside the Van Andel Institute in downtown Grand Rapids is on the frontlines of the battle against America’s increasing suicide rate.

Dr. Lena Brundin from VAI is teaming up with Dr. Eric Achtyes from Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services to lead research into how inflammation inside the body can indicate who is at risk for suicide.

“As we get sick, as we have stress in our lives, inflammation tends to increase. And we think that may impact our neurologic function, depressive episodes and even suicidality,” explained Achtyes.

Researchers will follow 160 people for a year during this five-year study.

The patients will give blood samples and clinical information. Researchers will work to identify blood-based biomarkers and what causes the type of inflammation that may put people at higher risk of suicide.

Brundin has researched suicide for more than a decade. She calls this study, supported by a $3.6 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, the most important one yet for VAI and Pine Rest.

“This is the first study that will track patients longitudinal and we’ll see after a year whether we have enough data to provide a definitive answer,” said Achtyes.

Inflammation is the body’s response to many things including infection, injury, chronic disease, stress and sleep deprivation.

“We’re afraid that in some people the inflammation will become chronic and take root and that’s when it might affect the brain,” said Brundin.

With plenty of anti-inflammatory treatments available, researchers hope to further their findings into developing new treatments to help people at risk for suicide.

“But we still need to figure out what kind of inflammation is the dangerous type and we need to do clinical trials in patients to see if this medication can really help,” said Brundin.

Researchers will begin enrolling study participants from Pine Rest in October.

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For people in crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can always be reached at 1.800.273.8255 or online.



National Institute of Mental Health