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Biotechnol J. 2012 Aug;7(8):946-57. doi: 10.1002/biot.201100305. Epub 2012 Apr 23.

Molecular signatures from omics data: from chaos to consensus.

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  • 1Institute for Systems Biology, Seattle, WA, USA.


In the past 15 years, new "omics" technologies have made it possible to obtain high-resolution molecular snapshots of organisms, tissues, and even individual cells at various disease states and experimental conditions. It is hoped that these developments will usher in a new era of personalized medicine in which an individual's molecular measurements are used to diagnose disease, guide therapy, and perform other tasks more accurately and effectively than is possible using standard approaches. There now exists a vast literature of reported "molecular signatures". However, despite some notable exceptions, many of these signatures have suffered from limited reproducibility in independent datasets, insufficient sensitivity or specificity to meet clinical needs, or other challenges. In this paper, we discuss the process of molecular signature discovery on the basis of omics data. In particular, we highlight potential pitfalls in the discovery process, as well as strategies that can be used to increase the odds of successful discovery. Despite the difficulties that have plagued the field of molecular signature discovery, we remain optimistic about the potential to harness the vast amounts of available omics data in order to substantially impact clinical practice.

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