Genetics and lifestyle are determining factors for protein levels in the bloodstream, according to a new study. This discovery greatly influences the possibilities for using more biomarkers to identify disease.

This finding came from a large-scale study of the significance of genetic, clinical, and lifestyle factors on protein levels in the bloodstream. It was conducted by research scientists from Uppsala University in Uppsala, Sweden and published in Nature Communications (2014; doi:10.1038/ncomms5684).

Biomarkers used for diagnosing disease should preferably indicate variations in protein levels only for those patients with a particular disease. Further, biomarkers should not vary for reasons that have nothing to do with the disease.

By analyzing 92 protein biomarkers for cancer and inflammation in a clinical study of 1,000 healthy persons, researchers surveyed the significance of genetic, clinical, and lifestyle factors on protein levels in the bloodstream. The results of the study show that hereditary factors play a significant role for more than 75% of the proteins, and a detailed genetic analysis demonstrates 16 genes with a strong effect on protein levels.

“These results are important, as they show which variables are significant for variations in the measurable values. If these factors are known, we have a greater possibility of seeing variations, and we get clearer breakpoints between elevated values and normal values. By extension this may lead to the possibility of using more biomarkers clinically,” explained first author Stefan Enroth, PhD, researcher at the Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology at Uppsala University.

According to the study, genetics and lifestyle together account in some cases for more than 50% of variations in protein levels among healthy people. This means that information about both genetic and lifestyle factors must be taken into account in order for protein biomarkers to be used effectively.