Clinical Review Science, medicine, and the future

DNA microarrays in medical practice

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: (Published 15 September 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:611
  1. Timothy J Aitman, MRC clinical scientist (
  1. Physiological Genomics and Medicine Group, MRC Clinical Sciences Centre, and Imperial College Genetics and Genomics Research Institute, Hammersmith Hospital, London W12 0NN

    The completion of the draft sequence of the human genome 1 2 has raised public awareness of “genomics” and of the ways in which the emerging technologies of the genomics “revolution” will have direct applications to patient care.3 DNA microarrays, or biochips, are prominent among these new technologies. The past five years have seen a dramatic rise in the use of DNA microarrays for biomedical research, in some cases with immediate applicability to clinical practice. The uses of microarrays for gene expression profiling, genotyping, mutation detection, and gene discovery are leading to remarkable insights into the function of thousands of genes previously known only by their gene sequence. This review discusses ways in which microarrays have started to affect clinical practice and research and how this role will develop in the next five to 10 years.


    The data for this review reflect my personal views from 10 years of research in molecular medicine and five years on DNA microarrays. My views have developed over this period from discussions with colleagues in my own laboratory and at basic science and biotechnology meetings and from regular reading of Nature Genetics, Nature, Science, and other journals.

    What are DNA microarrays?

    For the past 25 years, the standard techniques used to detect specific sequences of DNA or RNA in the laboratory have depended on the use of a DNA probe labelled with, for example, a radioactive isotope or a fluorescent tag. The probe is complementary in sequence to the fragment of DNA or RNA to be detected, and so it hybridises (or sticks) selectively, by Watson-Crick base pairing, to the correct fragment of DNA or RNA if that fragment is present in the test sample.

    The principle of DNA microarrays is that technological advances have made it possible to miniaturise this DNA probe detection …

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