March 3, 2017

Comparative patient, comparative biomarker?

I attended an interesting event on 1st June: "Comparative and Translational Medicine" organised by One Nucleus at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC). What is comparative and translational medicine? According to Prof. Dominic Wells (RVC), many therapies developed against traditional small animal disease models do not transfer well into humans because a lot of 'complexities' (environment, lifestyle) have been engineered out. He argues that 'comparative patients', i.e. veterinary patients as models of human disease, overcome this limitation as they have environments and lifestyles that are more comparable with their human counterparts.

Could the same argument hold for molecular biomarkers? Genome wide pharmacogenomic association studies on relatively large numbers of veterinary patients are technically feasible, and human homologs of any interesting signals can easily be determined. Such homologous markers could then be used in the context of adaptive clinical trials, where the numbers of participants are typically too small for unbiased biomarker discovery.

However, googling for 'comparative biomarker' or 'homologous biomarker' throws up very little, and my discussions about this type of work with RVC researchers after the event suggest that there is little precedent in this area. That said, this approach seems appealing on scientific, translational and humanitarian levels. Given the plummeting cost of DNA sequencing and increasing sophistication of biomarker discovery methods I predict a great deal more activity in this area over the coming years.

Topics: Bioinformatics, biomarker, genomics, pharmacogenetics, stratified medicine