DOHA: A research finding by Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q) and Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) could lead to a quick, non-invasive screening for diabetes, allowing patients who don’t know they have the disease to access treatment quicker.
Currently, doctors test for diabetes using blood or urine analyses. But these are inconvenient and not suitable for a comprehensive public screening programme as they generally have to be carried out by a nurse or doctor.
Researchers have discovered a way of testing for diabetes using a swab of an individual’s saliva. It means that samples could easily be taken in schools or sports associations, or during regular visits to the dentist, making implementation of the screening programmes and early intervention more viable.
Dr Karsten Suhre (pictured), Professor of Physiology and Biophysics at WCMC-Q, said it is important to diagnose diabetics as early as possible to allow them to access treatment, and the saliva test is one way of expediting that.
“Diabetes is a vicious disease as initially when you get it you don’t feel any different; you can live for years without knowing about it but if you don’t adapt your lifestyle you’re slowly but continuously destroying your body. It’s like running an engine using the wrong kind of oil.”
The researchers have discovered that diabetics have a reduced amount of 1,5-anhydroglucitol (1,5-AG) in their saliva. This is a substance similar to sugar. Scientists have long known that 1,5-AG can be used as a biomarker for diabetes in blood but the discovery by WCMC-Q and HMC that it can be tested for via a swab of the mouth increases its importance as a quick, non-invasive test.
Dr Mohamed Mohy El Din Selim, Senior Consultant at the Dermatology Clinic at HMC, collaborated with WCMC-Q on the study. He said: “To make the study happen we needed saliva, blood and urine samples from diabetics and people without diabetes. Many diabetics also have skin problems and visit the Dermatology Clinic at HMC. We could find healthy and diabetic volunteers for our study in one place. This is essential for data analysis since we needed to rule out potential influences that may be due to differences in sample collection.”
The study was conducted in Qatar and involved 369 people — about half Arabs and half Asians. It is the first time that a new research technique called metabolomics has been used in a diabetes study of this size on saliva, plasma, and urine samples in parallel. Such is its importance that it is being published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
Dr Khaled Machaca, Associate Dean of Research, WCMC-Q, said: “This study provides proof of concept for the feasibility of identifying biomarkers for complex diseases such as diabetes in Qatar. The discovery has huge potential to improve diabetes screening and detection in Qatar. This is significant given the high rate of diabetes in the country.”