In the Human Salivary Proteome Project, researchers are developing saliva tests that will take the place of routine blood tests and even do more, such as detect cancer at early stages. The researchers predict that saliva tests will replace needle pricks and detect multiple types of cancer by 2011.
Cancer CellsA multidisciplinary team of biologists, chemists, proteomics leaderships, engineers, and computer scientists are collaborating to create a periodic table of salivary secretory proteins. So far, they've identified 1,166 proteins found in saliva, and counting.
By knowing these proteins, doctors are able to detect markers of oral cancer, breast cancer, and the autoimmune disease Sjogren's syndrome. Soon, the group hopes to find the proteins that are linked to ovarian cancer and more. The researchers predict that early diagnosis would far greatly improve doctors' chances of curing these cancers.
Saliva tests are one of the future applications of lab-on-a-chip devices, which are being developed as microfluidics technology. Scientists explain that saliva contains everything that blood does, but at concentrations 1,000 to 10,000 times lower. These interesting particles are diluted by saliva and the other secretions in the mouth, meaning that scientists need instruments with sensitivity 1,000 to 10,000 higher than used for current blood samples. Recent advances in nanotechnology have enabled researchers to uncover these biomarkers even at extremely low concentrations.
Practically speaking, saliva works well because it is even less expensive than blood serum tests, and gives results in as little as 30 minutes. Not to mention that the test is easier and less painful for children and people with needle phobia.