Certainly one of the least invasive tests you can take is a saliva test. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather do a spit test than have my blood drawn. Soon, doctors may be using saliva tests to check for a wide variety of diseases. This is good news not only for those who hate having their blood drawn, but it also offers a simple way to check for many serious diseases such as breast cancer — perhaps before you even have symptoms!
And we all know, the earlier you can catch something, the better you can treat it.
Enter Dr. David Wong, UCLA's Felix and Mildred Yip Endowed Professor in Dentistry, who discusses the amazing discoveries being made in saliva studies over the past 10 years. “If you don't look in saliva, you may miss important indicators of disease. There seems to be treasure in saliva, which will surprise people.”
Wong elaborates, “"If we can define the boundaries of molecular targets in saliva, then we can ask what the constituents in saliva are that can mark someone who has pre-diabetes or the early stages of oral cancer or pancreatic cancer — and we can utilize this knowledge for personalized medicine.”
Wong’s research, which will soon be published in Clinical Chemistry, has centered on RNA, which is a “cellular messenger that makes proteins and carries out DNA's instructions to other parts of the cell, is now understood to perform sophisticated chemical reactions and is believed to perform an extraordinary number of other functions, at least some of which are unknown.” (Read more here.)
Researchers have looked at identifying biomarkers in saliva, and they have found that saliva contains some of the same RNA that is inside human cells. In fact, while studying saliva they discovered 327 new forms of circular RNA.
Studies have found that saliva has similar levels of microRNA levels, which have a role in cancers and other diseases, making saliva an important thing to test. They also found that saliva was a good source of piRNAs. While researchers are still unclear about their role in the body, it is thought that they may protect the body from viral infections. Because piRNAs are found in low amounts in the blood and other body fluids, checking saliva for piRNA levels may be important for better heath care in the future.
While so much of this is cutting edge research with implications of new discoveries still being decided, researchers appear to agree that this could be a game changer in health care.
I think this research is exciting on many different levels. I am hopeful that the promises it offers such as earlier detection, easy testing and new information about the body, could lead to better health care (prevention and treatment) in the future.
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