Medical Use of Biomarkers


A biomarker is a biological characteristic that is objectively measured and evaluated as an indicator of normal biological or pathological processes, or a response to a therapeutic intervention. Examples include patterns of gene expression, levels of a particular protein in body fluids, or changes in electrical activity in the brain.

The World Health Organisation definition of a biomarker includes the statement: ‘any measurement reflecting an interaction between a biological system and a potential hazard, which may be chemical, physical, or biological. The measured response may be functional and physiological, biochemical at the cellular level, or a molecular interaction.

Medical use of Biomarkers

There are many medical uses of biomarkers and the use of biomarkers will become significantly more widespread as personalized medical care becomes standard. Biomarkers can be used to find out what will happen to you when you use a particular treatment — or don’t use the treatment — and the risk of you developing certain medical conditions.

Diagnostic use of Biomarkers

An example of a diagnostic use of biomarkers is the measurement of biomarkers in blood to tell if you’ve had a heart attack. Measuring the levels of enzymes, hormones and proteins in your blood enables a doctor to determine the severity of your heart attack and how much damage your heart has suffered.

A simple blood sample can be analysed and the levels of marker chemicals measured. In the case of a heart attack a doctor might look at the following:

  • Cardiac troponin is a protein that enters the bloodstream soon after a heart attack and remains there after other biomarkers return to normal levels.
  • Creatinine kinase is an enzyme that increases in concentration after a heart attack. A certain type of CK can be measured to determine the damage to the heart.

The levels of biomarkers can change over time and appear and disappear at different stages after an attack.

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Nicola B
Editorial Manager
Journal of Biochemistry & Biotechnology