Saliva May Hold Key to Detecting Deadly Diseases in the Body

Someday saliva may be a lot more useful than for digestion—or to seal a deal with a handshake.

Scientists at the University of California Los Angeles School of Dentistry, thanks to a $5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, are working to develop biological markers in saliva that could lead to a test to detect stomach cancer and other systemic diseases.

Dr. David Wong will lead the five-year project and a team of collaborators who ultimately hope to develop a panel that would definitely detect stomach cancer cells by capturing extracellular RNA, or exRNA. Previously, RNA, which translates genetic code from DNA to make protein, was believed to reside within cells. Scientists later determined that RNA is secreted outside of cells—making it extracellular. This determination may mean that salivary exRNA molecules can emit signals that scientists can study and use to detect diseases.

The study could generate hard evidence that saliva can be used to detect such life-threatening, systemic diseases as diabetes and cancers of the pancreas, breasts, ovaries and stomach.

Dr. Wong and his team first discovered salivary exRNA molecules in 2004 and showed how they could work in detecting oral cancer, according to UCLA. The team successfully developed salivary exRNA biomarkers for such oral and systemic diseases as salivary gland tumors and Sjögren's syndrome, the school said.

The ADA has resources on diseases of the oral cavity, including Sjögren's syndrome and oral cancer at

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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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