19 October 2016

Blood tests may soon be a thing of the past, with researchers from the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI) developing ways to detect disease through a non-invasive saliva test.

Made possible by the support of generous donors to IHBI, as well as a $75,000 Foundation Vanguard Heart Grant, research has begun with a focus on detecting heart disease.

IHBI Associate Professor Chamindie Punyadeera said the aim of the research project was to produce a test that was quicker and easier to administer.

“The beauty of saliva is that you don’t need trained medical staff to collect a sample, it is non-invasive and could allow for home-testing and monitoring by patients for a variety of conditions.” Professor Punyadeera said.

Each year 26 million people are diagnosed with heart failure around the world, and with an ageing population this number is expected to increase. Sufferers often experience greatly diminished quality of life, facing symptoms such as fluid build-up and ulcers, fatigue and breathlessness, and even kidney damage.

Healthcare systems also face significant pressure to deal with heart health, with heart failure costing the Australian healthcare system $685 million a year or 9 per cent of the national health budget.

Professor Punyadeera said that early detection methods are vital in reducing heart disease’s progression to a life-threatening status.

“It’s a silent killer because it is asymptomatic in its early stages and people ignore it but heart failure can become life-threatening, if not treated.

“At the moment, identifying patients who need hospitalisation is not adequate. We hope this test will be able to provide an accurate, quick and easy way for patients to know when they need hospital treatment.

By identifying the presence of a protein called Galectin-3, Professor Punyadeera is able to predict complications or the need for hospitalisation.

“If the test finds elevated levels of Galectin-3 it could indicate the person needs medical attention.

“Using an e-health system, people with heart failure could be able to email the data from their saliva test to their GP who could advise them on medication levels, saving a trip to a heart specialist.”

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