Technology Allows Spitting Image of Your Health

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Saliva to provide noninvasive way to diagnose diseases

Saliva or "spit" cleanses the mouth, helps fight tooth decay and for some scientists at UCLA's School of Dentistry, serves as a potential diagnostic tool to paint an insightful view of the body's health.

"Over the next several years, we are looking at the possibility of diagnosing high-impact diseases through saliva," said David T. Wong, DMD, DMSc, associate dean of research and professor at UCLA's School of Dentistry and co-director of the head and neck oncology research program at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Dr. Wong, who also leads UCLA's Dental Research Institute, described the latest in saliva diagnostic research to attendees at the American Dental Association's National Media Conference, held here today.

"We have developed highly specific, nanotechnology-based biosensors (ultra tiny machines that read the simplest cell structure), which will permit the detection of disease-bearing biomarkers in saliva," said Dr. Wong.

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Scientists have long recognized that saliva contains the full complement of proteins, hormones, antibodies and other molecular substances frequently measured in standard blood tests to monitor health and disease, he explained.

Noninvasive diagnostic testing: Just spit instead of a needle prick

Saliva is easy to collect and poses none of the risks, fears or invasiveness of blood tests, allowing patients needing certain diagnostic tests to avoid a needle prick.

Dr. Wong said that in the future, dental offices might be equipped with real-time detectors to diagnose diseases from saliva.

Already Dr. Wong and his UCLA colleagues have shown that these biosensors can measure elevated levels of four distinct cancer-associated RNA molecules in saliva and distinguish within 91 percent accuracy between healthy people and those diagnosed with oral squamous cell carcinoma.

According to Dr. Wong, ongoing investigations into saliva diagnostics are broadening to include extending research into biomarkers for other diseases.

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