What are digital biomarkers and what benefits do they provide in the study and management of diseases?
by Tarek Milla, September 7, 2022
Technological advances in medical care are revolutionizing the way in which different diseases and conditions are prevented, diagnosed, monitored, treated, and managed, giving way to a new landscape of possibilities that is already offering promising results. Included in this type of advance is the use of digital biomarkers in the management of diseases, which has become a new tool that will support advances in precision medicine and assist traditional clinical trials.
Digital biomarkers are objective, quantifiable measurements of physiology and behavior that are collected using portable, implantable, or digestible devices. Among these, passive digital biomarkers are distinguished from active digital biomarkers. The former collect data through inconspicuous activity, that is, without the person’s direct action, like measurement of the pulse rate or oxygen saturation through mobile or wearable devices, as we mentioned in our article “How can wearables add value in the clinical environment?“. Active digital biomarkers capture information through prompted actions, for example, eye movement using the device’s camera.
These kinds of data collected through digital biomarkers are extremely useful in the management of research and the healthcare process, as they provide a broader yet more precise image of the patient’s daily status, offering objective and realistic measurements, avoiding bias on the part of the physician and the patient. This is noted in “Remote surgery, digital biomarkers, and artificial intelligence, main disruptive changes in digital medicine” (article in Spanish). In this way, these data can be used to explain, influence and/or predict outcomes related to different diseases, and they represent an opportunity to personalize the care and treatments, with these being adapted in response to the patient’s condition.
In addition, once these data are collected, they can be used alone or in combination with robust analytical tools like machine learning, with the goal of tracking patterns in individuals and populations that enable the monitoring and prediction of health status in order to plan appropriate therapeutic intervention. Further, because the collected data are objective and require minimal patient participation, clinical trials can potentially become more accurate and expeditious, supporting the development of more precise pharmaceuticals, among other activities.
In this way, if we avail ourselves of the use of digital biomarkers together with the data actively reported by the patients during the course of their illness—symptoms, quality of life, etc.—a complete view of the patient can be obtained, along with the efficacy and effectiveness of the treatments. This information, combined with the data from the healthcare professional’s clinical practice, will enable development of a more personalized medicine that is adapted to each situation.
Digital biomarkers are creating an exciting field in healthcare that can improve patient care and clinical research. So far, digital biomarkers have shown promising results in improving current measurements of health status, and have great potential for that in the future, prompting further adaptation in treatments and the healthcare process, thus impacting the health and quality of life of the patients.