© 1998 Arnie Rosner

Human Saliva magnified 100×

A trip to the doctor's office generally entails a deposit of blood or urine from which some diagnoses can be produced after a laborious process. Now, groups of biologists and engineers are working to make disease diagnoses quicker and more efficient by giving credit to a less conventional humor – the Rodney Dangerfield of bodily fluids – spit.

In the past year and a half, the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) has used a set of seven grants totaling $27 million (US) through 2006 to form a Salivary Diagnostics Group for technology development. Once disparate disciplines, oral salivary biology and engineering are melding in order to give saliva its due respect as a diagnostic fluid.

Scientists and healthcare workers have long known the power of saliva to indicate HIV exposure or drug abuse. Indeed, certain...

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