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Biomarkers for Lung Diseases - A Broadview

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Several biomarkers can be used to assess lung disease. Biomarkers are measurable indicators that can provide information about a disease or its progression.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Published At August 28, 2023
Reviewed AtAugust 28, 2023

What Are Biomarkers?

Biomarkers are measurable indicators of biological processes, disease states, or responses to interventions, such as drugs or environmental exposures. They can take many different forms, including molecules, genes, proteins, cells, or imaging features, and are used in various fields of medicine and science, including diagnosis, prognosis, therapy selection, and drug development. Examples of biomarkers include blood glucose levels for diabetes, PSA levels for prostate cancer, and brain amyloid deposition for Alzheimer's disease. The use of biomarkers has revolutionized medicine and allowed for more precise and personalized approaches to diagnosis and treatment.

Lung diseases are a diverse group of conditions that affect the lungs, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, pulmonary fibrosis, lung cancer, and others. Biomarkers are measurable indicators that can help diagnose, monitor, and predict the course of these diseases. Here are some of the most important biomarkers for lung diseases:

  • Spirometry: Spirometry is a simplified test for breathing that calculates the air expelled by an individual in one second (FEV1) and the total volume of air they can exhale (FVC). The management is utilized for the diagnosis and monitoring of COPD, asthma, and other lung conditions.
  • Fractional Exhaled Nitric Oxide (FeNO): FeNO is a biomarker that can help diagnose and monitor asthma. It measures the level of nitric oxide in a person's breath, which is produced by inflamed airways.
  • Blood Eosinophils: Eosinophils are categories of white blood cells that involve allergic reactions and inflammation. The elevated number of eosinophils in the bloodline can indicate asthma or other allergic lung diseases.
  • Imaging Tests: Imaging tests such as X-rays, CT (computed tomography) scans, and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) can help diagnose and monitor lung diseases like lung malignancies and pulmonary fibrosis. These tests can show the presence of abnormalities such as tumors, scarring, and inflammation.
  • Biomarkers for Lung Cancer: Lung cancer biomarkers include genetic mutations such as EGFR, ALK, and KRAS, which are present in some types of lung cancer. These biomarkers are helpful in identifying the specific category of malignancy the individual has and guide management decisions.
  • Blood Biomarkers: Blood biomarkers such as C-reactive protein (CRP), procalcitonin, and interleukin-6 (IL-6) can indicate inflammation and infection in the body. These biomarkers may be useful in diagnosing and monitoring lung infections such as pneumonia.
  • Breath Biomarkers: Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in exhaled breath can provide information about a person's metabolism and health status. Breath biomarkers may be useful in diagnosing and monitoring lung diseases such as COPD and lung cancer.

Various biomarkers can be useful to diagnose, monitor, and predict the course of lung diseases. These biomarkers include spirometry, FeNO, blood eosinophils, imaging tests, genetic mutations, blood biomarkers, and breath biomarkers. By using these biomarkers, healthcare providers can more accurately diagnose and treat lung diseases, improving patient outcomes and quality of life.

What Are the Types of Biomarkers for Lung Diseases?

Here are some examples:

  • Imaging Biomarkers: These are measurable changes in lung structure or function that can be visualized using imaging techniques such as X-ray, CT scan, MRI, or PET scan. Examples of imaging biomarkers for lung diseases include lung volume, airway diameter, and perfusion defects.
  • Genetic Biomarkers: These are DNA or RNA sequences that can indicate an increased risk of developing lung diseases or predict the response to specific treatments. For example, mutations in the CFTR gene are associated with cystic fibrosis, while certain gene expression patterns may indicate a higher risk of lung cancer.
  • Inflammatory Biomarkers: They are the substances released by the immune system in response to swelling of diseases in the lung tissue. Examples of inflammatory biomarkers for lung diseases include C-reactive protein (CRP), interleukin-6 (IL-6), and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha).
  • Metabolic Biomarkers: These are substances produced by metabolic processes in the body that can be detected in blood or urine samples. Examples of metabolic biomarkers for lung diseases include nitric oxide (NO) and carbon monoxide (CO), which can indicate oxidative stress and inflammation in the lung tissue.
  • Proteomic Biomarkers: These are proteins that can be detected in blood or tissue samples and can indicate disease progression or response to treatment. Examples of proteomic biomarkers for lung diseases include surfactant protein D (SP-D) and Krebs von den Lungen-6 (KL-6), which are associated with lung fibrosis.

How Are Biomarkers Useful for Lung Diseases?

In the case of lung diseases, biomarkers can be very useful in several ways:

  • Prognosis: Biomarkers can help predict the progression of lung diseases and the response to treatment. For example, some biomarkers can indicate the severity of asthma and therefore help doctors determine the best course of treatment.
  • Treatment Monitoring: Biomarkers can be used to monitor the effectiveness of treatments. For example, changes in certain biomarkers can indicate whether a treatment for lung cancer is working or not.
  • Drug Development: Biomarkers can be used in drug development to identify potential therapeutic targets and test the efficacy of new drugs.

Biomarkers are a powerful tool for understanding lung diseases and developing effective treatments. They can help diagnose diseases earlier, predict disease progression, and monitor treatment effectiveness, ultimately leading to better patient outcomes.

Here are some general precautions that are recommended when using biomarkers for lung diseases:

  • Standardization: Standardization of sample collection and analysis procedures is crucial to ensure the accuracy and reproducibility of biomarker measurements. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) should be established and followed to minimize variability and ensure consistency across different laboratories.
  • Validation: Biomarkers should be validated in large and diverse patient populations to ensure their accuracy and reliability. Validation studies should be designed so that the sensitivity, predictive value, and specificity of the biomarker are evaluated and to identify any potential sources of bias or confounding.
  • Ethical Considerations: Using biomarkers for lung diseases raises ethical considerations, such as issues related to privacy and confidentiality. It is critical to obtain informed consent from the individuals before collecting biological samples for biomarker analysis and to ensure that patient privacy is protected throughout the process.
  • Quality Control: Quality control measures should be implemented to ensure the accuracy and reliability of biomarker measurements. This includes monitoring the performance of laboratory equipment, ensuring the proper calibration of instruments, and maintaining adequate documentation of all procedures and results.
  • Interpretation: Biomarkers should be interpreted in the context of other clinical and diagnostic information to avoid misinterpretation or overinterpretation of results. The clinical significance of biomarkers should be carefully evaluated, and any uncertainties or limitations in interpreting results should be acknowledged.


There is a need for more research to fully understand the clinical utility of these biomarkers and in which methods they can be utilized in clinical practice. The use of biomarkers for lung diseases holds great promise for improving the diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment of these conditions. However, there is a need to take appropriate precautions to ensure that biomarker measurements are accurate, reliable, and ethically sound.

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Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar
Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Pulmonology (Asthma Doctors)


lung cancer
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