Answer to disease testing on tip of tongue

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

A recent study suggests the answer to finding new ways of detecting diseases has been on the tip of our tongues all along.

Teams of researchers from universities across the United States have found saliva could be the key to a simpler, more convenient method of diagnostic testing.

Currently, the vast majority of diseases are diagnosed through blood samples, however recent studies suggest proteins in our saliva could offer a new method.

Fred Hagen, an assistant professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of Rochester, explained the purpose of the study.

“We want to open this field up by identifying every single protein present in saliva,” Hagen said.

“With this data, researchers can define which of these proteins are good markers for disease states.”

Hagen was optimistic about the advancements made in the study and looked forward to a time when saliva testing could be routine.

“Women, when they reach a certain age, have a greater need to be screened for breast cancer on a regular basis. The most common method today is mammography, which is a long and expensive process,” Hagen added. “What we envision is just spitting into a cup and having a little chip used as a screening device for early detection.”

This technology could have greater implications for infants as well.

“Mothers would be a little more comfortable extracting saliva from their infants than blood,” Hagen stated.

John Yates, professor of chemical physiology at the Scripps Research Institute in California and fellow researcher on the study, was not as optimistic about the future of saliva-oriented diagnostic testing.

“There are still a lot of other things you need to test in blood,” Yates explained, “but it very well could become a primary test to determine the health of the oral cavity.”

Dr. Zafar Hussain, professor of microbiology and immunology at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, does not believe the technology will be as popular as other researchers might hope.

“It is a very attractive alternative,” Hussain admitted, “but you would have to use extremely sensitive technology, because the amount of antibodies is significantly smaller.”

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