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What is a biomarker?




Photo: DKFZ, Jörg Hoheisel

Biomarkers are substances found in tissue, blood or urine that are indicative of a particular biological state or that supply information on biochemical processes. In the field of medicine, certain proteins, genes and cells can be used as biomarkers. These provide valuable information on a person’s state of health. But biomarkers do not always have to do with illness or disease. Pregnancy tests that measure a hormone found in the urine are typical biomarker tests, for example.

Sometimes the mere presence of a biomarker (in a patient’s blood or urine, for example) is sufficient to indicate disease. Other tests measure the amount of a certain biomarker, with an elevated amount indicating a greater likelihood of disease.

Biomarker tests also allow doctors to tell if an individual has a higher risk of developing conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or certain types of cancer later in life; others tell them how effectively a specific drug is working for a given patient.

Saskia Blank from the Ideas 2020-Team answered this question in collaboration with the department “Press and Public Relations” of the German Cancer Research Center.