Whitney Palmer

Healthcare. Politics. Family.

How spit could help improve health

Published in the May 24, 2010, Raleigh News & Observer and May 23, 2010, Charlotte Observer

BY WHITNEY L.J. HOWELL – CORRESPONDENT

CHAPEL HILL — Spit could be the next diagnostic tool in the fight against infectious diseases, if work by two N.C. scientists proves successful.

David Lawrence and Vyas Sharma, researchers at the UNC-Chapel Hill Eshelman School of Pharmacy, received $100,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation this month to investigate using genetically modified mustard seeds that change color when exposed to contagious diseases present in saliva, blood or urine.

Their work has indicated the seeds could be a simple, easy way to detect a contagious disease such as tuberculosis or malaria.

“You wouldn’t need any electricity or special equipment to test for diseases this way,” Lawrence said. “It would be ideal for resource-poor countries.”

The Gates Foundation funding is aimed at projects that will improve health in developing countries. Successful projects

David Lawrence (right) and Vyas Sharma (left), researchers at the UNC-Chapel Hill Eshelman School of Pharmacy, are studying whether spit could be a diagnostic tool for infectious diseases in developing countries.

will be eligible for an additional $1 million in funding.

Lawrence and Sharma will use their grant to identify which modifications prompt seeds to recognize a bacterium or virus and respond to its presence. The seeds could be modified to respond in a variety of ways, Lawrence said. Change one strand of DNA, and the seed will glow blue when it touches a disease protein. Alter something else, and the same seed could turn fluorescent.

“I can see a potential application in a school setting that will produce a response before the school day is over,” Sharma said. “Every teacher would know how to conduct the test when students arrived in the morning.”

Ultimately, Lawrence said, he envisions a kit that includes seeds designed to detect the presence of several common infectious diseases simultaneously.

Inexpensive, simple diagnostic tests are coveted in the developing world, said Dr. John Bartlett, associate director of research at Duke University’s Global Health Institute. The trick, however, is making sure they work properly.

“Any test developed with this research must undergo rigorous evaluation to establish how sensitive it is to detecting a condition and how accurate it is,” Barlett said. “That information is crucial to determining the diagnostic value of the test.”
Read more: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/05/24/497173/how-spit-could-help-improve-health.html

or http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2010/05/23/1454239/how-spit-could-help-improve-health.html

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May 24, 2010 - Posted by | Healthcare, Science | , , , , , , , , , ,

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