Why biomarkers hold the key to improving health for all

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Biomarkers are valuable clues to what is going on – and, crucially, going wrong – in our bodies. They are indicators of all the normal biological processes that keep us alive – everything from cardiovascular activity and metabolism to the functioning of our immune systems. But they can also flag up early signs of disease – or even the risk of developing a certain disease – as well as helping to track an individual’s response to medical treatment.

Biomarkers capture what is happening in a cell or organism at a given moment. They are objective medical signs – as opposed to symptoms reported by a patient – and can have molecular, physiologic, radiographic or histologic characteristics.

Molecular biomarkers can be measured in biological samples such as blood, urine and cerebrospinal fluid. Blood glucose is an example of a molecular biomarker. Blood pressure, meanwhile, is a physiologic biomarker – a measurement of a body process. Bone mineral density is an example of a radiographic biomarker, as it is obtained from imaging studies. And the grading and staging of cancers is histologic – reflecting biochemical or molecular alteration in cells, tissues or fluids.

Biomarkers can be used alone or in combination to assess someone’s state of health or disease. And they can even help predict – and therefore potentially prevent – some conditions, as they can highlight genetic susceptibility to disease and genetic responses to environmental factors. Skin cancer is related to excessive sun exposure, for example, but genetic variants mean not everyone develops skin cancer, even with the same amount of exposure.

Biomarkers are already being widely used in healthcare. We know, for example, that certain genes can increase breast cancer risk. And prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels are used to screen for prostate cancer.

What we’re doing here at Sanome is identifying the combinations of biomarkers that signify the start of different illnesses – paving the way for a new generation of diagnostic tests for early detection or even prevention of disease.