Identifying pathological biomarkers: histochemistry still ranks high in the omics era.
In recent years, omic analyses have been proposed as possible approaches to diagnosis, in particular for tumours, as they should be able to provide quantitative tools to detect and measure abnormalities in gene and protein expression, through the evaluation of transcription and translation products in the abnormal vs normal tissues. Unfortunately, this approach proved to be much less powerful than expected, due to both intrinsic technical limits and the nature itself of the pathological tissues to be investigated, the heterogeneity deriving from polyclonality and tissue phenotype variability between patients being a major limiting factor in the search for unique omic biomarkers. Especially in the last few years, the application of refined techniques for investigating gene expression in situ has greatly increased the diagnostic/prognostic potential of histochemistry, while the progress in light microscopy technology and in the methods for imaging molecules in vivo have provided valuable tools for elucidating the molecular events and the basic mechanisms leading to a pathological condition. Histochemical techniques thus remain irreplaceable in pathologist's armamentarium, and it may be expected that even in the future histochemistry will keep a leading position among the methodological approaches for clinical pathology.