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North Carolina study of veterans shows link between certain genes and suicidal tendencies

Some 1,892 American flags are installed on the National Mall in Washington, DC in 2014. The Iraq and Afghanistan veterans installed the flags to represent the 1,892 veterans and service members who committed suicide this year as part of the "We've Got Your Back: IAVA's Campaign to Combat Suicide."
Jewel Samad / AFP via Getty Images
Some 1,892 American flags are installed on the National Mall in Washington, DC in 2014. The Iraq and Afghanistan veterans installed the flags to represent the 1,892 veterans and service members who committed suicide this year as part of the "We've Got Your Back: IAVA's Campaign to Combat Suicide."

A study of military veterans led by Duke Health and the Durham V.A. shows a link between certain genes and suicidal tendencies. The breakthrough could to lead to new medications that help with suicide prevention.

Co-lead author Nathan Kimbrel says the study was a "monumental" effort with hundreds of thousands of vets participating.

"Even after you account for known factors like age and sex we know that veterans are about 50 percent more at-risk for dying by suicide than their civilian counterparts," he said.

The study showed a series of certain genes found in veterans who had thoughts about, attempted, or died by suicide versus participants without a history of such behaviors.

Kimbrel says the next step is a genome study that looks at why people exposed to some risk factors for suicide go on to attempt it and others do not.