In foreign language learning, there’s a concept called false friends — words that seem so familiar you’re tricked into thinking you know what they mean. But in reality they mean something different. For example, in German and Scandinavian languages the word “gift” doesn’t mean a present. It actually means poison.
While not as dramatic, there are false friends in biomedical lingo that you may not be aware of. The lab-on-a-chip field is especially prone to terminology-related communication barriers because it brings together a diverse crowd from all corners of the scientific, medical, engineering, business, academic, and industry worlds. And because it’s an emerging industry, terminology is in flux.
A common principle for detecting lingo: seemingly broad terms often have narrow, specific meanings to industry insiders. In the same way that “tech industry” has come to mean software/computers/electronics (not just any type of technology), “biotech” has a specific meaning that’s more narrow than biology + technology. Here are a few examples related to the lab-on-a-chip world:
Biomedspeak: Deceptively Broad Terms
|Term||To a lay person, it seems like this would mean....||But the industry interpretation is actually more narrow...
|Biotechnology, or biotech||Seems obvious: biology + technology = any technology applied to biological or medical problems, right? ||Actually to an insider, "biotech" means using live micro-organisms (e.g., bacteria) to manufacture a product (typically pharmaceutical). Classic examples of biotech companies include Biogen, Genzyme, and Genentech. Medical devices are not considered biotech.
|Medical devices||Seems like it would mean any device with a medical application. And many do use it this way, including the FDA. ||Often there's an assumption that medical devices really means therapeutic medical devices, with diagnostics considered a separate industry segment. Examples of medical device companies include Boston Scientific and Medtronic.
|Molecular diagnostics||Incredibly vague term if you take it literally. ||Often means diagnostics based on DNA / RNA, excluding tests like immunoassays. However, some people interpret it to include tests for any protein or nucleic acid, and even include small molecules.
Bonus: An assay is just a measurement. This one is for all of you coming from non-biological backgrounds. It doesn’t fall under the common principle above, but I mention it because I’ve heard non-bio folks comment on it so often.
To make things even more confusing, a lot of these industries are beginning to collide and become interrelated. Drugs are being combined with medical devices (e.g. drug-eluting stents) and diagnostics are beginning to be linked closely with drugs to enable personalized medicine.
Do you have any examples of biomedspeak?