Normality: the unreachable star?

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The concept of reference values is widely accepted, but their application has been quite lax over the years. This is due primarily to the difficulty of properly selecting and documenting samples from a reference population. In the absence of a clear description of reference individuals, reference values lose their meaning, are ambiguous at best, and are often confused with decision limits. The clinical medicine perspective of reference values is to rule out diseases and to define health, while that of preventive medicine is to appreciate the state of health. Defining reference limits and normality in this context is a great challenge. Advances in the fields of genomics and proteomics and the rapid pace of technological advances help highlight the biological diversity among individuals. However, there is a great need for reference values that are representative of healthy humans and presented in a manner that they can be utilized by all laboratories. In addition, as secure information technology becomes available, the goal of using an individual as their own reference during a lifetime is now possible, provided that consistency of databases is ensured.

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