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Definition of Assay

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Assay: An assay is an analysis done to determine:

  1. The presence of a substance and the amount of that substance. Thus, an assay may be done for example to determine the level of thyroid hormones in the blood of a person suspected of being hypothyroid (or hyperthyroid).
  2. The biological or pharmacological potency of a drug. For example, an assay may be done of a vaccine to determine its potency.

Assay is also used as a verb and has several related meanings in this role:

  1. To try or attempt. For example, "she assayed this operation for the first time and so was understandably nervous."
  2. To analyze a mixture for one or more of its components
  3. To judge the value, the worth of something.

The words "assay" and "essay" are often confounded, a cardinal sin according to some word mavens. However, "assay" and "essay" share a common ancestry. Both words come from the French "essai" which in turn came from the Late Latin "exagium" meaning the "act of weighing".

Reviewed on 12/27/2018

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