The more, the merrier: why a combination of biomarkers is better than one

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You have probably heard the word “biomarkers” many times, but do you know what it means? Biomarkers, or “biological markers”, have been defined by WHO as “any substance, structure, or process that can be measured in the body or its products and influence or predict the incidence of outcome or disease”. In essence, biomarkers are objective measures of what is happening in our bodies in healthy or disease states.

In the clinic, biomarkers are widely used for the diagnosis or monitoring of a disease. For instance, certain components in a person’s blood, saliva or urine can be biomarkers. High cholesterol levels in a blood test are a sign for heart disease risk. Other biomarkers include blood pressure, heart rate or even certain genes can be biomarkers at a molecular and cellular level.

Each biomarker gives different information about a specific biological process. The human body however is a multifaceted system, where all parts communicate with each other in a series of actions and reactions. To understand what is really going on, we cannot look at one part in isolation. Take a jigsaw puzzle for example. Each piece of the puzzle gives some information about the picture but you need to assemble all pieces together to see the whole picture. The same is true for the human organism and therefore, a combination of biomarkers can do better than one in understanding our biology in a more holistic way.

In recent years, people have started to realise this more and more and the research in this area has increased. No single biomarker can be the perfect indicator of a complex disease. For example, in the case of osteoarthritis researchers have shown that combined versus single biomarkers provided 5-10% improvement on disease prediction. Furthermore, more than one biomarker have been shown to better aid early diagnosis of sepsis, which is where future research will focus on.

Here at Sanome, we work hard on identifying novel combinations of biomarkers that can signify the start of illnesses, while we are on a mission to build the most intricate puzzle – human health.