is an investigative (analytic) procedure in laboratory medicine
, pharmacology, environmental biology and molecular biology for qualitatively assessing or quantitatively measuring the presence, amount, or functional
activity of a target entity (the analyte). The analyte can be a drug, a biochemical substance, or a cell in an organism or organic sample. The measured entity is generally called the analyte
, the measurand
or the target
of the assay. The assay usually aims to measure an intensive property of the analyte and express it in the relevant measurement unit (e.g. molarity, density, functional activity in enzyme international units, degree of some effect in comparison to a standard, etc.).
If the assay involves addition of exogenous
reactants (the reagents) then their quantities are kept fixed (or in excess) so that the quantity (and quality) of the target is the only limiting factor for the reaction
/assay process, and the difference in the assay outcome is used to deduce the unknown quality or quantity of the target in question. Some assays (e.g.,
biochemical assays) may be similar to or have overlap with chemical analysis and titration. But generally, assays involve biological material or phenomena which tend to be intrinsically more complex either in composition or in behavior or both. Thus reading
of an assay may be quite noisy and may involve greater difficulties in interpretation than an accurate
chemical titration. On the other hand, older generation qualitative
assays, especially bioassays, may be much more gross and less quantitative (e.g.,
counting death or dysfunction of an organism or cells in a population, or some descriptive change in some body part of a group of animals).
Assays have become a routine part of modern medical, environmental, pharmaceutical, forensic and many other businesses at various scales from industrial to curbside or field level. Those assays that are very highly commercially demanded have been well investigated in research and development
sectors of professional industries, undergone generations of development and sophistication, and become copyrighted
intellectual properties via highly competitive process patenting. Such industrial scale assays as these are often done in well equipped laboratories and with automated organization of the procedure—from ordering an assay to pre-analytic sample processing (sample collection, necessary manipulations e.g. spinning for separation
or other processes, aliquoting if necessary, storage, retrieval, pipetting/aspiration etc.). Analytes are generally tested
in high throughput AutoAnalyzers, and the results are verified and automatically returned to ordering service providers and end users. These are made possible through use of advanced Laboratory informatics system that interfaces with multiple computer terminals with end users, central servers, the physical autoanalyser instruments, and other automata.