Something to spit at: All Children’s researchers to study saliva samples

RESEARCHERS at All Children’s Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine will begin to study the saliva of young cancer patients to learn if spit might prove more beneficial than blood to use as test samples during treatment.

With a three-year, $717,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), researchers will take a look at the effectiveness of saliva samples versus blood samples to provide doctors with information about potentially toxic levels of a certain chemotherapy drug.

Margaret Penno, Ph.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Medicine Pediatric Biorepository at the hospital, says many aspects of the possibility of using saliva samples could prove to be positive. “This way, we can help to match the lowest level of chemotherapy needed,” she explains. The samples might also help to pinpoint which chemotherapy drugs would best match a tumor’s genetic profile.


With cancer patients who are children, having the necessarily frequent blood samples drawn can be challenging. “We began with the idea that children would prefer to spit than have their blood drawn,” she says.

Samples will be collected from some 60 patients at the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Cancer & Blood Disorders Institute in St. Petersburg. They will be children who are being treated with a chemotherapy drug called doxorubicin.

The research should determine whether saliva testing could provide the same level of information as blood testing for the physicians monitoring the young patients. “It’s not that it’s more sensitive — it’s a different way of looking at it,” she adds. “The goal is to see if it can be as sensitive as blood testing.”

Patients who are old enough to spit when asked to will do so by way of a small tube placed in their mouths. Their saliva will go into a collection filter. Toddlers and infants will provide samples by way of a special wick, to be put in their mouths to absorb saliva.

With the help of the grant funding, a pediatric cancer biorepository will be established at the hospital. It will serve as a place to store biologic samples that can be used to study the origins of childhood illness and test new approaches to treatment or prevention.

Johns Hopkins Medicine Pediatric Biorepository at All Children’s Hospital is the only pediatric biorepository in Florida and one of only a handful of such facilities in the United States. A future goal is to develop a home kit for collection of saliva samples.


article by MARY TOOTHMAN

Accessibility Toolbar