Healthy Living

Saliva Test to Diagnose Lupus May Soon Exist

Saliva Test to Diagnose Lupus May Soon Exist

Researchers have created a simplified technique to diagnose lupus using saliva. The initial research took place at the University of Houston, and was thanks to a $387,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health.  If successful, the saliva test could very well replace the invasive methods that are currently in use for diagnosis.  The study was conducted by Chandra Mohan, MD, PhD, Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen and set out to develop a testing method that is able to identify what are known as anti-double stranded DNA (or anti-dsDNA) antibodies, a characteristic in patients that serves as an important indicator for the prevalence of lupus.

Currently the process to detect lupus consists of kidney biopsies and a series of blood-related tests. The research team is seeking to change this traditional approach, as the experience is quite uncomfortable for patients. One of the tell tale signs of lupus includes the high levels of the anti-dsDNA antibodies present in the blood. This is the most common hallmark for assessing the potential presence of lupus, and the research team discovered that these same antibodies can be found in the saliva of the patients being tested.

This allowed the research team to use it as the foundation by which they could base their study. The struggle will lie in whether or not these antibodies within the saliva are precise enough in making the comparison between a completely healthy patient and a patient diagnosed with lupus.  Another struggle for the team will include the identification of what type of lupus a patient may have.  

The research team based in Texas will also team up with Michelle Petri, a professor at John Hopkins School of Medicine.  The team will evaluate a large sum of patients who have been diagnosed with lupus, paying close attention to a variety of traits that help the team better assess the patient's present condition.  If successful, the team hopes that a home-based kit will be able to put into use by patients, making the diagnostic approach even more simple to use.

Mohan points out, “The same kit could be used to test saliva, but with urine we already know some of the biomarkers to look for. In the case of saliva, this grant will help us study what to look for and how to identify the proteins that are useful as biomarkers in saliva.”  The research team hopes that by making the test available for in-home use, a larger population will take the initiative and test themselves for lupus if needed.

What is lupus?

Lupus is classified as a specific type of autoimmune disease that is the result of the body’s immune system attacking the body’s own tissues and organs. As a result, inflammation occurs, and can be found in a variety of regions within the body, which include the joints, kidneys, skin, blood cells, brain, lungs, and heart.  This internal damage results in symptoms such as fatigue, fever, pain experienced in the joints, noticeable rashes on the epidermis, fingers and toes that turn white or blue when exposed to the cold known as Raynaud’s phenomenon, trouble breathing, dry eyes, headache, as well as skin lesions.  While the exact cause of the disease has yet to be identified, scientists believe that the condition stems from specific triggers, as well as genetics.

The different types of potential triggers include sunlight, infections, and certain types of medications. Certain factors exist that increase the likelihood that a patient will have lupus, which include gender, age, and ethnic background.  As is the case with many other diseases, lupus can result in a variety of other serious health-related complications including issues with the kidneys, brain and nervous system, blood and blood vessels, the heart, as well as the lungs.

In addition to the lung and organ assessments, traditional diagnosis includes a Complete Blood Count (CBC), erythrocyte sedimentation rate, urinalysis, and an antinuclear antibody test. Physicians can also make use of a series of imaging tests, like chest X-rays and an echocardiogram (EKG).  One of the more invasive of these diagnostic methods is the biopsy, where an incision is made and using a fragment of the patient’s skin as a sample to be further be analyzed in a lab setting.

The future for lupus patients

Lupus is difficult to diagnose because of the many symptoms that resemble other serious health complications.  It is imperative that patients recognize this and remain proactive in their assessment of their condition. If certain risk factors exist a person should see their doctor or a specialist as necessary. If lupus is diagnosed, a care plan will be created to manage it. 

Treatment options include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, antimalarial drugs, immunosuppressants, rituximab (Rituxan), and biologics. Utilizing these options will help to suppress the severe symptoms of lupus, and subsequently create a better quality of life for patients diagnosed with lupus.