Within the era of molecularly targeted anticancer agents, it has become increasingly important to provide proof of mechanism as early on as possible in the drug development cycle, especially in the clinic. Selective activation of apoptosis is often cited as one of the major goals of cancer chemotherapy. Thus, the present minireview focuses on a discussion of the pros and cons of a variety of methodological approaches to detect different components of the apoptotic cascade as potential biomarkers of programmed cell death. The bulk of the discussion centres on serological assays utilising the technique of ELISA, since here there is an obvious advantage of sampling multiple time points. Potential biomarkers of apoptosis including circulating tumour cells, cytokeratins and DNA nucleosomes are discussed at length. However, accepting that a single biomarker may not have the power to predict proof of concept and patient outcome, it is clear that in the future more emphasis will be placed on technologies that can analyse panels of biomarkers in small volumes of samples. To this end the increased throughput afforded by multiplex ELISA technologies is discussed.
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