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What are biomarkers and why are they important?

Darshit Patel
Thursday, October 27, 2022, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

The term ‘biological markers’ (also known as biomarkers) refers to cellular, metabolic, or molecular changes that may be detected in biological media, such as living tissue, cells, or secretions.

The concept has been frequently expanded to encompass biological traits that may be reliably examined and assessed as a sign of healthy biological processes, pathological processes, or pharmacological reactions to a therapeutic intervention.

Molecular biomarkers also have the ability to identify those who are disease-prone. Neurological practice has already been impacted by molecular genetics and improving diagnosis.

When populations are categorised according to their level of susceptibility using these biomarkers, the results are more accurate than when using historical definitions of susceptibility.

For example, instead of depending on a report of the "family history" of the disease, a biomarker, for instance, will allow stratification of a population based on a particular "genotype" linked with a disease. This kind of quantification of "susceptibility" can be a crucial technique for determining illness risk in different populations.

In real life, biomarkers refer to instruments and methods that can help in understanding the prognosis, aetiology, diagnosis, progression, remission, or result of medical therapy.

The deployment of technically sophisticated biomarkers will soon become even more practical thanks to the rapid advancements in molecular biology and laboratory technology.

Clinical scientists will be able to use molecular biomarkers to comprehend the range of neurological diseases with clear applications in analytic epidemiology, clinical trials, disease prevention, diagnosis, and therapy.

Epidemiologists, doctors, and scientists have employed a variety of biomarkers to research human disease for many generations. It is commonly recognized that biomarkers are used in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, immune and genetic diseases, infections, and cardiovascular disease.

Biomarkers’ application in research stems from the necessity for a more accurate, recall-free measurement of exposures in the disease's causation pathway as well as the possibility of learning more about the exposures' assimilation and metabolism.

Biomarkers have also been used by scientists and medical practitioners in dealing with complex multiple comorbidity conditions for diagnosis, treatment, and causation. They have used blood, brain, cerebrospinal fluid, muscle, nerve, skin, and urine to gather data on the nervous system in both a healthy and pathological condition.

Types of biomarkers
Biomarkers may be broadly categorised into two categories: biomarkers of exposure, which are used to predict risk, and biomarkers of illness, which are used for disease screening, diagnosis, and progression tracking.

The use of biomarkers for risk assessment, screening, and diagnostic procedures is well-established, and they have a number of clear benefits. Numerous neurological illnesses are categorised using histological diagnosis or established clinical criteria.

Additionally, biomarkers have the ability to detect neurological disease at an early stage, offer a means for uniformly classifying a condition, and increase our understanding of the aetiology of the underlying disease.

All forms of clinical study, from clinical trials to epidemiological observational studies, can directly benefit from these advantages.

Although biomarkers are well suited to epidemiological research and they are also helpful in determining a disease's natural history and prognosis. Biomarkers possess the capacity to pinpoint the earliest occurrences in natural history, lowering the extent of misinterpretation including both exposures as well as illness, allowing access to possible mechanisms linked to the pathogenicity, accounting for some of the variability, and effect modification of risk prediction.

In addition to defining the events between exposure and disease, biomarkers have the potential to delineate the events among exposure and disease. Additionally, biomarkers can shed light on the course of an illness, its prognosis, and how well it responds to treatment.

Why do we need them?
Biomarkers are quantifiable physical traits of the body. Therefore, your blood pressure can be considered as a biomarker.

In general, biomarkers are crucial to medicine. We are all accustomed to seeing the doctor and receiving the results of all our tests, and even imaging tests like CAT scans and X-rays, which provide quantitative information about the health of the body, serve as biomarkers.

Because scientists need to gauge how experimental medications affect volunteers during clinical trials, biomarkers are crucial to drug development. And we do that by examining their impact on biomarkers.

Therefore, it is crucial that we have access to a wide variety of biomarkers that can help us determine all we need to know about how experimental medicine affects people.

The main issue with drug development nowadays is the failure rate, which is one of several challenges. Therefore, even medications that have undergone the whole pre-clinical procedure, including animal testing, and several other types of assays, may only have a one in ten probability of being approved for sale if they are administered to humans. During such development, nine out of ten people might fail. To overcome this challenge, it is now more important than ever to identify the right biomarkers for early prediction of drug activity and efficacy.

And if we want to speed up the availability of treatments, to cut the cost of drug research and stop it from rising, and genuinely allow many innovators to participate in the process of developing new drugs, we need to do more than that.

We need a brand - new generation of biomarkers that are more informative and that can alert developers earlier as to whether or not their drug may have toxicity or it actually may not work at all, as well as to get that early read on what's going to be successful, in order to significantly increase the success rate and efficiency of drug development. Thus, such biomarkers are hypothetical ones that have not yet been created.

One of the latest advancements in biomarker development has been OMICs based technologies. This broad range of technologies including Genomics, Metagenomics, and Epigenomics has been an important contributor to finding novel biomarkers in the recent times involving population level data analysis. Some examples of such biomarkers include DNA methylation levels, gut microbial and diseases association signatures, or single Nucleotide Polymorphisms in nuclear genetic material.

Medical signs have been used in clinical practice for Centuries, despite the fact that the term "biomarker" is comparatively recent. Numerous biomarkers are in use and have undergone extensive investigation, including blood lead levels, urine, and heart rate. New biomarker research has entered a promising age with the possibility for early detection and efficient, tailored therapy of many diseases with the growth of genomics and other developments in molecular biology. A biomarker needs to be something that can be precisely and consistently tested, while keeping in mind the reproducibility and invasiveness of collection technique. Biomarkers have a wide range of medical applications, and as individualized healthcare becomes the norm, these applications will spread dramatically. Biomarkers can be used to determine your chances of getting specific medical attention as well as what will happen to you if you take or do not utilize a particular medication.

(Author is chief scientific officer, Decode Age)


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