Nucleic acid sequences can produce a wide variety of three-dimensional conformations. Some of these structural forms are able to interact with proteins and small molecules with high affinity and specificity. These sequences, comprising either double or single stranded oligonucleotides, are called 'aptamers' based on the Greek word aptus, which means 'to fit'. Using an efficient selection process, randomised oligonucleotide libraries can be rapidly screened for aptamers with the appropriate binding characteristics. This technology has spawned the development of a new class of oligonucleotide therapeutic products. However, while interest among pharmaceutical companies continues to grow with some candidates already in clinical trials and one in the market, there appears to be some reluctance to fully explore the diagnostic potential of this technology. This article will review aptamer developments in diagnostics, compare them with other oligonucleotide therapeutics and highlight both potentials and pitfalls of technological development in this area
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