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Microscopic technology finds diseases in saliva samples

Using microscopic machines to fight disease in the human body might sound like something out of the 1966 science fiction film "Fantastic Voyage," but it may not be as far away as you think.

Dental researchers are already using "nanotechnology-based" biosensors to detect the markers of disease in saliva. Nanotechnology broadly refers to the use of machines and technology built at the molecular or atomic levels.

Scientists have long recognized that saliva contains many of the same proteins, hormones, antibodies and other biologic components that are often measured using standard blood tests to monitor health and disease, said Dr. David Wong of the University of California, Los Angeles School of Dentistry. The use of microscopic sensors to analyze saliva could offer an alternative to the pain and risks of blood tests.

In fact, the UCLA researchers have shown that such biosensors can measure elevated levels of four molecules identified with oral squamous cell carcinoma in the saliva, allowing them to distinguish healthy patients from those with cancer with a high degree of accuracy.

"Over the next several years, we are looking at the possibility of diagnosing high-impact diseases through saliva," Dr. Wong said. Such diseases could include breast, ovarian and pancreatic cancers, Alzheimer's, AIDS, diabetes and osteoporosis, among others.

Please contact the ADA if you have questions about this article.

©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

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