Drooling for a Diagnosis

Researchers may have found a simple noninvasive way to diagnose asthma. Apparently there are identifiable differences in our spit that may allow them to sort out if you have asthma. By collecting samples from asthma patients and healthy controls the researchers were able to identify metabolic biomarkers using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry.1  It is really cool to see the technique actually applies to my life come from my college chemistry classes. Researchers note that this technique is becoming more routine in hospital labs and sample collection doesn’t require specialized training. 1 Which sounds like this technique wouldn’t have too many hurdles to move from the research lab out into the “real world”.
No one has felt the need to do a methacone challenge to me. However, I’m no stranger to spirometers and exhaled nitric oxide testing. While neither of these are invasive or particularly bothersome to me they can be a bit tricky to get the right breathing technique. Providing a saliva sample would be much easier than any of the above. Since this is emerging research obviously there will need to be follow up studies to validate the biomarkers.2The study to test out this technique included only 30 participants, 9 of who had asthma.1Studying metabolics for biomarkers is an emerging field of research.1It is encouraging that they have applied this technique to asthma. I hope that further research will prove out that the technique is applicable to the broader population.
I think this is very exciting if this makes the jump to asthma clinics across the globe and becomes the new gold standard test for asthma. It really changes the game to think that we could collect the drool off a kid’s pacifier and know if they have asthma. I’m not a parent but I can’t imagine watching and trying to help get my kid through a methacone challenge. Not to mention trying to coax them into doing spirometry for at check ups. I would think even the most obstinate toddler or teenager would give a saliva sample. The test doesn’t require asthma symptoms to be present in order to provide a positive result1 Which could allow us to screen a newborn for asthma before they exhibit any symptoms. Clearly a powerful diagnostic tool for pediatricians trying to piece together what is going on with a sick young child. 

As with many promising scientific advances I’m cautiously optimistic. Yes, this saliva analysis may get me out of blowing out birthday candles on the spirometer, keeping a steady exhale for the nitric oxide sensor, or perhaps some blood draws. These positives come with reservations. Do I really want to know if my hypothetical offspring has asthma before I’ve even changed their first diaper? Could someone who grabs my discarded tea cup have enough of my saliva to know I’m asthmatic (or whatever other biomarkers scientist link to health conditions)? For the time being we don’t have to answer these questions. We can wait for the longitudinal studies to come back.

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