Biological markers, known as biomarkers are indicators that can measure signs of normal biological processes. They are used in healthcare to help diagnose disease and monitor patients, as well as in research for drug development.
Synthetic biomarkers are also being used in cancer detection.
Biomarkers allow early healthcare intervention and can help doctors decide on the best treatment for the patient, which reduces the need for invasive therapies (and their sometimes unpleasant side effects). There are several different reasons for using biomarkers:
- Diagnostic biomarkers can spot a disease
- Prognostic biomarkers provide information about a disease
- Predictive biomarkers gain insight on how a patient will respond to a certain drug
- Monitoring biomarkers observe the behaviour of a disease
- Surrogate biomarkers measure the effects of treatment.
Here, two healthcare experts discuss the use of biomarkers in the sector.
Digital health solutions & wearable sensors
Roozbeh Ghaffari is the co-founder and CEO of Epicore Biosystems, a digital healthcare company, which is a spinout of Northwestern University and is headquartered in Cambridge, MA, USA.
“I’m focused on our day-to-day execution and planning the long-term course to bring our digital health solutions to market,” he explains.
While most of the world has embraced heart rate monitoring and tracking steps, Epicore Biosystems has been hard at work in developing the next generation of wearable technology that can tap into biochemistry, hydration and stress biomarkers, by measuring tiny amounts of sweat.
Ghaffari says: “It turns out you can learn a lot about human physiology and hydration if you measure biophysical markers, such as skin or body temperature, movement and heart rate, in tandem with a few key biochemical markers, such as electrolytes, metabolites and hormones in sweat.”
Epicore Biosystems is focused on executing and clinically validating this vision, to bring products to market on a daily basis.
“Biomarkers are measurable biological substances or physiological parameters like heart, steps and blood pressure, that correspond to the state of health, onset of disease and/or progression of disease,” says Ghaffari. “With advances in biosensors and the miniaturisation of medical devices, there are numerous clinical studies underway to identify new digital and biochemical markers as a way to achieve preventative care and early diagnosis.”
Epicore Biosystems is developing advanced sweat-sensing wearables that provide real-time, personalised health insights for hydration, stress and wellness. This includes advanced biometrics as such sweat rate, total sweat loss, sodium chloride concentration and total sodium chloride loss, skin temperature, and motion — all captured with a noninvasive biowearable patch, analysed through a proprietary cloud engine and delivered directly to the wearer through a mobile application.
“Our suite of biowearables includes the Gx Sweat Patch created in partnership with PepsiCo and Gatorade, the Discovery Patch Sweat Collection System, and the Connected Hydration sensor and mobile application tailored for industrial athletes and sports.”
Ghaffari believes that the rampant heat exposure seen across the globe has amplified the need for new technologies that could assist everyday people with their fluid and electrolyte loss and intake.
“I’m very excited about the future of hydration and nutrition science, and its intersection with the need for personalisation and real-time management,” he says. “At Epicore Biosystems, we have created novel digital health solutions beginning with a wearable sensor and cloud analytics that unlock your individual hydration, skin temperature and motion data, and give rise to real-time recovery recommendations for the very first time.”
Biomarker time and cost savings
Matt Lavin is the Vice President and General Manager of Platform at LifeOmic, a healthcare technology company that is connecting, consolidating and visualising complex health data to improve patient outcomes. He is responsible for setting the direction for what products the company should build.
“A big part of my work involves talking to lots of early-stage companies, hearing their visions for the future of healthcare, and making sure that the LifeOmic Platform has the features they need,” Lavin says. “Our technological backbone, The LifeOmic Platform, is a secure and scalable cloud-based software solution designed to aggregate and visualise complex health data to power precision health.”
“By seeing the whole picture of a person, we can better uncover when one uncommon biomarker is not a cause for concern,” Lavin continues. “We can stop prescribing drugs for every value that’s out of range and focus on applying treatments that are effective at changing outcomes.”
He also believes that it will help to better explain why treatments work on some people and not others.
“Imagine the time and cost savings if we could get better at matching an effective treatment to the person on the first try?” he says.
However, Lavin understands there are challenges related to data privacy and algorithm transparency, but has an answer to how this can be addressed.
“I think that algorithm transparency is an interesting discussion,” he explains. “On one hand, the results of the algorithm might be the most important judge of the algorithm.
“If the algorithm is consistently correct about the best treatment and results in good outcomes, then it would be a good idea to take the output of the algorithm seriously, even if we don’t fully understand the algorithm.
“I think it’s still true that we have traditional diagnostics where we use biomarkers as inputs into treatments when we don’t fully understand the mechanism that explains why the biomarker is an effective guide. We should use what works.”
As with traditional biomarkers, Lavin believes that healthcare professionals should be working to understand what causes it to work so well.
“In our search for understanding, sometimes new biomarkers are found. When working to understand algorithms, we’ll likely discover new areas of research and a better understanding of the differences between people that have an impact on health.”