Imperfect gold standards for kidney injury biomarker evaluation

Sushrut S. Waikar, Rebecca A. Betensky, Sarah C. Emerson, Joseph V. Bonventre

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Clinicians have used serumcreatinine in diagnostic testing for acute kidney injury for decades, despite its imperfect sensitivity and specificity. Novel tubular injury biomarkers may revolutionize the diagnosis of acute kidney injury; however, even if a novel tubular injury biomarker is 100% sensitive and 100% specific, itmay appear inaccurate when using serum creatinine as the gold standard. Acute kidney injury, as defined by serum creatinine, may not reflect tubular injury, and the absence of changes in serum creatinine does not assure the absence of tubular injury. In general, the apparent diagnostic performance of a biomarker depends not only on its ability to detect injury, but also on disease prevalence and the sensitivity and specificity of the imperfect gold standard. Assuming that, at a certain cutoff value, serum creatinine is 80% sensitive and 90% specific and disease prevalence is 10%, a new perfect biomarker with a true 100% sensitivity may seem to have only 47% sensitivity compared with serum creatinine as the gold standard. Minimizing misclassification by using more strict criteria to diagnose acute kidney injury will reduce the error when evaluating the performance of a biomarker under investigation. Apparent diagnostic errors using a new biomarkermay be a reflection of errors in the imperfect gold standard itself, rather than poor performance of the biomarker. The results of this study suggest that small changes in serum creatinine alone should not be used to define acute kidney injury in biomarker or interventional studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-21
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Society of Nephrology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nephrology


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