Saliva Testing Moves Into the Mainstream

Lowly spit might be a lifesaver in disease, infection detection

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FRIDAY, Feb. 18, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Simple saliva can provide detailed information on the presence of disease, dental cavities and drug abuse.

That's the conclusion of research presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

New discoveries in proteomics -- the study of proteins found in saliva and elsewhere throughout the body -- is bringing saliva testing within spitting distance of other much-used screens, such as blood or urine testing, the experts said.

"Saliva has not really been used in the mainstream. As a scientific community, it's time to bring oral fluid testing to the front line and look at what value it will bring," David Wong of the University of California, Los Angeles Jonsson Cancer Center and School of Dentistry, said in a prepared statement.

Saliva and other oral fluids contain many of the same proteins and other molecules found in blood and urine that can reveal the presence of diseases, including head and neck cancers, the researchers noted.

One team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that genetic traces of lethal pathogens such as HIV can be detected in saliva. Another group, this time at the University of Southern California, has identified saliva-borne molecules that help predict who's at high risk for cavities, and where in the mouth those cavities are most likely to develop.

Currently, scientists are working hard on technologies for testing saliva and identifying molecules (biomarkers) that indicate disease. In the meantime, saliva testing for illicit drug use is already becoming more common in the workplace, the panelists said.

Ease of collection is one major advantage of saliva over urine or blood samples. All a person has to do is spit in a cup to provide a sample, they said.

More Information

The Nemours Foundation has more about saliva.

SOURCE: American Association for the Advancement of Science, news release, Feb. 17, 2005


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