What are biomarkers?

The word “biomarker” is a portmanteau of “biological marker.” Broadly speaking, biomarkers are measurable factors, biochemical, molecular, or cellular in nature, that may assist in providing information about a condition, disease, or disorder.

Depending on the nature of the relationship between the measurable biological factor and the condition, a biomarker can provide information to aid in ascribing a diagnosis or prognosis, support in allocation of treatments, or even help in evaluating treatment-response. For these reasons, biomarkers have been sought for a variety of conditions across many medical fields, to varying degrees of success.

Why might they be useful in psychiatry?

Generally, there is a consensus that we should be working toward a more personalised approach to treatment, in all fields of medicine. In psychiatry, although first line treatments can be effective for some, for others they can fall short – with little understanding of why, or what treatment might have been a better option. Fields such as oncology (cancer research), have found useful ways to use biomarkers to help diagnose cancers, and select treatments. There are hopes that the same could be true for psychiatry.

Psychiatric Biomarkers Discovery Group

Within the TRIALS research programs, Dr Adam Walker leads the analysis of biological factors from blood samples and response to treatment. At present their work has chiefly focused on identifying immune-inflammatory biomarkers for add-on treatments in mood disorders. For more on Dr Walker’s program, refer to this real world impact article here.

At present, Dr Walker is one quarter of the Psychiatric Biomarkers Discovery Group – a team currently comprised of two junior postdoctoral researchers, and two senior postdoctoral researchers, aiming to strategically advance the biomarkers research streams of the Clinical Trials and Interventions and Novel Drug Discovery arms within the IMPACT institute.

Other members of the group include:
– Dr Zoe Liu (Associate Research Fellow, Biomarkers);
– Professor Ken Walder (Theme Leader, Novel Drug Discovery); and
– A/Professor Olivia Dean (Theme Leader, Clinical Trials and Interventions).

This group together carries a wealth of complementary skills, to aid in carrying out research projects aiming to identify new drug targets, new treatment options, and new biomarkers.

The team have plenty of projects planned for 2022, watch this space!

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