Generation of data on within-subject biological variation in laboratory medicine: An update

Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci. 2016 Oct;53(5):313-25. doi: 10.3109/10408363.2016.1150252. Epub 2016 Mar 14.


In recent decades, the study of biological variation of laboratory analytes has received increased attention. The reasons for this interest are related to the potential practical applications of such knowledge. Biological variation data allow the derivation of important parameters for the interpretation and use of laboratory tests, such as the index of individuality for the evaluation of the utility of population reference intervals for the test interpretation, the estimate of significant change in a timed series of results of an individual, the number of specimens required to obtain an accurate estimate of the homeostatic set point of the analyte and analytical performance specifications that assays should fulfill for their application in the clinical setting. It is, therefore, essential to experimentally derive biological variation information in an accurate and reliable way. Currently, a dated guideline for the biological variation data production and a more recent checklist to assist in the correct preparation of publications related to biological variation studies are available. Here, we update and integrate, with examples, the available guideline for biological variation data production to help researchers to comply with the recommendations of the checklist for drafting manuscripts on biological variation. Particularly, we focus on the distribution of the data, an essential aspect to be considered for the derivation of biological variation data. Indeed, the difficulty in deriving reliable estimates of biological variation for those analytes, the measured concentrations of which are not normally distributed, is more and more evident.

Keywords: Intra-individual biological variation; analytical goals; between-subject biological variation; index of individuality; inter-individual biological variation; normality test; reference change value; within-subject biological variation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Variation, Population*
  • Diagnostic Techniques and Procedures / standards*
  • Humans
  • Reference Values
  • Reproducibility of Results