Spitting into a cup or licking a diagnostic test strip could someday be an attractive alternative to having your blood drawn at the doctor’s office.

Researchers have identified the largest number of proteins to date in human saliva, a preliminary finding that could pave the way for more diagnostic tests based on saliva samples. Such tests show promise as a faster, cheaper and potentially safer diagnostic method than blood sampling, they say.



“There is a growing interest in saliva as a diagnostic fluid, due to its relatively simple and minimally invasive collection,” says study leader Phillip A. Wilmarth, Ph.D., of Oregon Health & Science University School of Dentistry in Portland, Ore. “The same proteins present in blood are also present in saliva from fluid leakage at the gum line. It is considerably easier, safer and more economical to collect saliva than to draw blood, especially for children and elderly patients.”



The study of salivary proteins is described in the Oct. 11 print issue of the Journal of Proteome Research, a peer-reviewed publication of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society.



While saliva tests won’t replace blood tests for all diagnostic applications, says Wilmarth, in the future they could prove to be a potentially life-saving alternative to detect diseases where early diagnosis is critical, such as certain cancers. Saliva collection also may be the only practical way to screen large numbers of patients in developing nations, the researcher adds.



Diagnostic assays using saliva are a relatively new but growing technology. This past spring, the FDA approved the first HIV test based on saliva rather than blood. Several other tests are in the pipeline for uses ranging from pregnancy testing to detection of chemicals such as alcohol and other drugs. One of the hurdles in developing new tests is a lack of understanding of the human proteome, or the study of large sets of proteins, particularly those that can serve as biomarkers for the presence of disease.



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