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Scand J Clin Lab Invest Suppl. 2010;242:6-14. doi: 10.3109/00365513.2010.493354.

What is a biomarker? Research investments and lack of clinical integration necessitate a review of biomarker terminology and validation schema.

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  • 1Department of Laboratory Medicine, Children's Hospital Boston, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


A continual trend of annual growth can be seen within research devoted to the discovery and validation of disease biomarkers within both the natural and clinical sciences. This expansion of intellectual endeavours was quantified through database searches of (a) research grant awards provided by the various branches of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and (b) academic publications. A search of awards presented between 1986 and 2009 revealed a total of 28,856 grants awarded by the NIH containing the term "biomarker". The total funds for these awards in 2008 and 2009 alone were over $2.5 billion. During the same respective time frames, searches of "biomarker" and either "discovery", "genomics", "proteomics" or "metabolomics" yielded a total of 4,928 NIH grants whose combined funding exceeded $1.2 billion. The derived trend in NIH awards paralleled the annual expansion in "biomarker" literature. A PubMed search for the term, between 1990 and 2009, revealed a total of 441,510 published articles, with 38,457 published in 2008. These enormous investments and academic outputs however have not translated into the expected integration of new biomarkers for patient care. For example no proteomics derived biomarkers are currently being utilized in routine clinical management. This translational chasm necessitates a review of the previously proposed biomarker definitions and evaluation schema. A subsequent discussion of both the analytical and pre-analytical considerations for such research is also presented within. This required knowledge should aid scientists in their pursuit and validation of new biological markers of disease.

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