When I think back, I have memories of days that existed without Google, fancy smartphones, and the multi-dimensional platforms of social media; among many other recent developments. As long ago as that may seem, we’ve been privileged to live through some of the most revolutionary decades in medical science. Across the globe, we’ve seen exponential technological growth and can expect this trend to continue, likely at a higher pace and with more precision. In the insurance industry, it’s more important now than ever to stay on top of medical advancements and technology that will unquestionably impact life underwriting in how we interpret, test, and assess medical history. As one of LOGiQ3’s team of life insurance underwriters, trends and recent developments in the field of life underwriting are constantly on my radar. Three that recently caught my attention are listed here for you.
1. Predicting Heart Disease: The PLAC Test
The PLAC test (for Lp-PLA2 Activity) has recently been approved by the FDA. While the risk factors for cardiovascular heart disease are well outlined, the PLAC Test will provide doctors with additional prognostic information for patients with no cardiac history. Similarly, it may offer an additional element in predicting heart disease and classifying risk in those with cardiac-related symptoms but no correlating clinical evidence, making it a valuable asset in detecting hidden risk for Coronary Heart Disease. The associated enzyme, Lp-PLA2 is a marker specific to blood vessels. In the presence of plaque that is prone to rupture, it is highly elevated, even when cholesterol levels are considered normal. Clearly an indication that this new, additional, non-invasive test should be considered, not just by family practitioners but, by the insurance industry as well.
2. Early Detection of Ovarian Cancer
It is estimated that 14,000 women in the US die of ovarian cancer each year. In 2015, that’s a scary statistic considering the amount of time and money spent on health care technology and advancements in recent years. The lack of existing screening and early detection has been the driving force for researchers at the University College in London. Extensive research on an existing blood test that screens for a protein called CA-125, commonly found on cancer cells in the ovary, has found with regular yearly blood screenings for this protein that;
86 percent of ovarian cancers can be detected earlier than
they might be detected through ultrasound.
While important for all women to be aware of the signs and symptoms, women who are at high risk (so long as completing regular follow ups) can be screened with less invasive, less time-consuming testing that provides far more accurate results. In addition, if diagnosed during these early stages, the 5-year survival rate is over 90%.
*** This marker could be a game changer in the way we underwrite ovarian cancer ***
3. Forecast Concussion Severity
Over the past 15 years or so, concussions and their long term effects have become an increasingly concerning topic, especially for those in and around the sports world, professional or other. We’ve witnessed the days in professional sports where a player takes a blow to the head only to get back out on the ice, field, or whatever it may be, as soon as they ‘feel okay’, which in most cases is far too soon. The lack of awareness and information we’ve had to date is to blame, along with the lack of objective testing available to diagnose and subsequently treat these individuals appropriately.
In the past, we’ve relied on a very simplistic basic test, called the ‘sideline test’, which consists of very few questions designed to identify signs of concussion; concentration, short term memory, orientation. It can take less than 5 minutes and is easily accessible (There’s an app for that!). Unfortunately, fast and easy isn’t the best approach when it comes to testing brain damage. The test can be easily manipulated and results are open to interpretation, leaving us with extremely subjective and unreliable results.
We’ve only recently come to realize how severe the long term effects can be, thanks, in part, to years of research by Dr. Robert Siman, a professor of neurosurgery at Penn State University, and his colleagues. Researchers have found a significant protein, called SNTF protein that is normally a part of the structural support of the axon within the brain. When you get a concussion, your brain bangs around the inner walls of your skull and depending on severity, nerve fibers can get damaged and cause the structural support to start breaking within. Simply stated, if enough of these structural support bonds are broken, the protein SNTF starts leaking into the bloodstream, and it is this protein that becomes measurably increased in the blood.
SNTF could be the first objective blood test for brain injury. Although an admittedly small study and in early stages of development, the results have been astounding. Not only is the protein measurable hours after an injury, but early studies have shown a link between the amount of STNF in the blood and the amount of permanent damage to the brain. Ultimately, the more brain damage, the more SNTF protein will be detected. There are many ongoing studies looking at other blood markers and more detailed imaging. Regardless of which method ends up on top, we are now on the brink of game changing developments that will hopefully lead to new treatment strategies, aid in determining the degree of limitations, and be an important factor in assessing mortality and morbidity risks of those with history of head injuries.
As a life insurance underwriter, staying attuned is a natural interest; an honest effort in making the best decisions possible with the information (and knowledge) at hand. It allows myself (and my colleagues) to more accurately classify risks, and stay competitive both individually and within the industry.