The host response as a tool for infectious disease diagnosis and management.

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INTRODUCTION:A century of advances in infectious disease diagnosis and treatment changed the face of medicine. However, challenges continue to develop including multi-drug resistance, globalization that increases pandemic risks, and high mortality from severe infections. These challenges can be mitigated through improved diagnostics, and over the past decade, there has been a particular focus on the host response. Since this article was originally published in 2015, there have been significant developments in the field of host response diagnostics, warranting this updated review. Areas Covered: This review begins by discussing developments in single biomarkers and pauci-analyte biomarker panels. It then delves into 'omics, an area where there has been truly exciting progress. Specifically, progress has been made in sepsis diagnosis and prognosis; differentiating viral, bacterial, and fungal pathogen classes; pre-symptomatic diagnosis; and understanding disease-specific diagnostic challenges in tuberculosis, Lyme disease, and Ebola. Expert Commentary: As 'omics have become faster, more precise, and less expensive, the door has been opened for academic, industry, and government efforts to develop host-based infectious disease classifiers. While there are still obstacles to overcome, the chasm separating these scientific advances from the patient's bedside is shrinking.





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Lydon, Emily C, Emily R Ko and Ephraim L Tsalik (2018). The host response as a tool for infectious disease diagnosis and management. Expert review of molecular diagnostics, 18(8). pp. 723–738. 10.1080/14737159.2018.1493378 Retrieved from

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Emily Ray Ko

Assistant Professor of Medicine

Clinical and translational research, COVID-19 therapeutics, clinical biomarkers for infectious disease.


Ephraim Tsalik

Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine

My research at Duke has focused on understanding the dynamic between host and pathogen so as to discover and develop host-response markers that can diagnose and predict health and disease.  This new and evolving approach to diagnosing illness has the potential to significantly impact individual as well as public health considering the rise of antibiotic resistance.

With any potential infectious disease diagnosis, it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine at the time of presentation what the underlying cause of illness is.  For example, acute respiratory illness is among the most frequent reasons for patients to seek care. These symptoms, such as cough, sore throat, and fever may be due to a bacterial infection, viral infection, both, or a non-infectious condition such as asthma or allergies.  Given the difficulties in making the diagnosis, most patients are inappropriately given antibacterials.  However, each of these etiologies (bacteria, virus, or something else entirely) leaves a fingerprint embedded in the host’s response. We are very interested in finding those fingerprints and exploiting them to generate new approaches to understand, diagnose, and manage disease.

These principles also apply to sepsis, defined as life-threatening organ dysfunction caused by a dysregulated host response to infection. Just as with acute respiratory illness, it is often difficult to identify whether infection is responsible for a patient’s critical illness.  We have embarked on a number of research programs that aim to better identify sepsis; define sepsis subtypes that can be used to guide future clinical research; and to better predict sepsis outcomes.  These efforts have focused on many systems biology modalities including transcriptomics, miRNA, metabolomics, and proteomics.  Consequently, our Data Science team has utilized these highly complex data to develop new statistical methods, furthering both the clinical and statistical research communities.

These examples are just a small sampling of the breadth of research Dr. Tsalik and his colleagues have conducted.  

In April 2022, Dr. Tsalik has joined Danaher Diagnostics as the VP and Chief Scientific Officer for Infectious Disease, where he is applying this experience in biomarkers and diagnostics to shape the future of diagnostics in ID. 

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