Houston research team on verge of painless lupus testing

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HOUSTON – An estimated 1.5 million people in the U.S. have lupus.

Determining if someone has the autoimmune disorder can be done with a blood test, and often a biopsy of the patient’s kidney is necessary, which is invasive and painful.

A University of Houston research team is on the cusp of replacing those tests with something much easier, a saliva test.

“We would give this to a patient and they would open this up and there's a cotton swab in here that they can put in their mouth and after they collect the saliva they put it back into this tube,” UH graduate student, Sanam Soomro said.

Soomro is working with Professor Chandra Mohan to determine if proteins in our saliva could reveal an illness like lupus.

In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, Mohan is looking to prove whether there are biomarkers in saliva that can diagnose lupus, or complications of the disease, and possibly eliminate other more invasive tests.

“There's only so much kidney in a person you can keep removing, you can't keep removing tissue every week, right?” said Mohan, UH Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Internal Medicine. “You can do it once, twice, you can't repeat it serially. Whereas a saliva test is something you can do serially. So, the key is for us to find out exactly what to monitor in the saliva.”

“At the very end, if we found a protein that is what we choose to diagnose lupus, we can say that, because that one protein or dot is brighter, we can say this person has lupus,” Soomro said.

If the research is successful in determining those biomarkers, they can figure out if this test is more accurate than what’s currently available. If all goes well, the saliva test could be available in the next two years.