There’s good news for people who are squeamish when it comes to getting their blood drawn: blood tests may be a thing of the past thanks to another bodily fluid—saliva.
In with Saliva, Out with Blood
The saliva test could be the new frontier for diagnostic medicine. There have been recent breakthroughs in analyzing saliva for cytokines—molecules used by the body for signaling. These molecules are crucial for your immune system and their presence in saliva can be used to determine whether or not a patient is—or will be—afflicted by certain illnesses. The beauty of the saliva test is its simplicity. All one has to do is swab inside of his or her mouth and it’s done. No needles, no light-headedness, and no trip to the doctor’s to do it. That’s right: once you’ve taken a sample of your spit you then just mail it off and wait for the results.
Due to this, its simplicity and convenience on the patient-end, doctors will be able to catch illnesses earlier. Since it’s cheap and can be mailed in, potentially complicating factors like socio-economics and geography are seriously reduced. The main area in which this spit test works well is with inflammatory diseases. It’s excellent at determining if a disease is present, but not necessarily at identifying it. For instance:
- cytokine markers in the saliva will detect an inflammatory issue, but…
- it cannot identify which tissue is inflamed
- it cannot identify what kind of inflammatory disease i.e. diabetes vs. heart disease vs. cancer
- it cannot conclude far along the disease has progressed
Despite these shortcomings, optimism remains high. Already saliva tests can predict the risk of developing breast or prostate cancer. Unfortunately, differentiating between types of cancer remains elusive.
Even so, research leader Professor Bjorn Klinge of Malmo University of Sweden believes that this level accuracy will be attained within the next 5 to 10 years. Progress in this level of accuracy, however, has already been made: periodontal disease, its duration of infection and severity can already be precisely determined through saliva. And since periodontal disease is a risk factor for later disease progression, this is a major step forward in diagnostic medicine.
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