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PLoS One. 2011;6(6):e20662. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0020662. Epub 2011 Jun 1.

Expanding the understanding of biases in development of clinical-grade molecular signatures: a case study in acute respiratory viral infections.

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Center for Health Informatics and Bioinformatics, New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York, United States of America.



The promise of modern personalized medicine is to use molecular and clinical information to better diagnose, manage, and treat disease, on an individual patient basis. These functions are predominantly enabled by molecular signatures, which are computational models for predicting phenotypes and other responses of interest from high-throughput assay data. Data-analytics is a central component of molecular signature development and can jeopardize the entire process if conducted incorrectly. While exploratory data analysis may tolerate suboptimal protocols, clinical-grade molecular signatures are subject to vastly stricter requirements. Closing the gap between standards for exploratory versus clinically successful molecular signatures entails a thorough understanding of possible biases in the data analysis phase and developing strategies to avoid them.


Using a recently introduced data-analytic protocol as a case study, we provide an in-depth examination of the poorly studied biases of the data-analytic protocols related to signature multiplicity, biomarker redundancy, data preprocessing, and validation of signature reproducibility. The methodology and results presented in this work are aimed at expanding the understanding of these data-analytic biases that affect development of clinically robust molecular signatures.


Several recommendations follow from the current study. First, all molecular signatures of a phenotype should be extracted to the extent possible, in order to provide comprehensive and accurate grounds for understanding disease pathogenesis. Second, redundant genes should generally be removed from final signatures to facilitate reproducibility and decrease manufacturing costs. Third, data preprocessing procedures should be designed so as not to bias biomarker selection. Finally, molecular signatures developed and applied on different phenotypes and populations of patients should be treated with great caution.

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