Magic Biomarkers

News ways of using biomarkers open new horizons in defining risk, illness, and therapies for vital organ failure.

Dr. Bruce McManus is a professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and Director of the James Hogg iCAPTURE Centre and PROOF Centre of Excellence.

Organ failure is now epidemic across the world – heart, lung and kidney failure together take the greatest toll in terms of human suffering and healthcare spending.

But one of the biggest challenges in predicting and diagnosing organ failure is also one that shows great promise, and it acknowledges that we’re each uniquely different – right down to the molecular level.

Early warning signs of heart, lung and kidney disease can be detected in minute changes in genes, proteins and metabolites. These changes “mark” the presence and severity of risks or diseases that could ultimately lead to organ failure. By clinical laboratory tradition, such  measures as elevated blood sugar and blood cholesterol could indicate risks for hardening of the arteries and eventual heart attack. More recently called biomarkers, these tell-tale signs are potentially powerful tools that could revolutionize population surveillance, patient care and the development of new therapeutics and technologies.

Researchers at the Centre of Excellence for Prevention Of Organ Failure (PROOF) at UBC and St. Paul’s Hospital, and the Institute for Heart + Lung Health, are taking this new horizon of medicine one step further by assembling “sets” or “panels” of novel individual biomarkers that can then be used to create blood or urine tests to help diagnose, predict or guide the treatment of heart, lung and kidney disease in a cost-effective manner.

While individual biomarkers tell us part of the story about diseases and risks, panels or sets of biomarkers paint a clearer picture of biological processes like immune rejection, organ damage, altered repair, and organ failure. But they are challenging to discover and even more difficult to translate into practical clinical tools.

As an Network Centre of Excellence (NCE) for Commercialization and Research, the PROOF Centre has brought together a broad spectrum of experts and partners to meet this challenge. This collision of high performance technologies with sophisticated statistical and bioinformatical analysis and well-defined clinical needs is informing our ever-deepening knowledge of biological processes that can lead to personal devastation and suffering.

Biomarkers remind us how truly unique we each are as individuals, as “systems” operating in health or illness, and as such – and beyond their promise in helping people at risk of or suffering from organ failure in our community, biomarkers hold truly magical value for people in all societies of our global village.