A top researcher from Sidra Medicine, part of Qatar Foundation (QF), has developed the first salivary microbiome composition of the Qatari population which could be “a stepping stone to precision medicine.”
“Saliva acts as a mirror for the body's health,” said, Dr Souhaila al-Khodor, director of the Maternal and Child Health Programme in the Research Department at Sidra Medicine.
Dr al-Khodor’s group has successfully reported the first-ever salivary microbiome composition in the Qatari population, using data from 1,000 individuals participating in the Qatar Genome Programme, a QF initiative.
“Saliva is composed of RNA, DNA, proteins, electrolytes, metabolites, and microbiota. Variation in either of these components can indicate a change in the health of an individual. The salivary microbiome not only differs from disease to disease, but it also changes based on ethnicity. This is partly due to differences in genetics, diet and environmental factors,” explained, Dr al-Khodor.
The shift towards personalised, or precision medicine can be propelled by advances in diagnostic tools. One of these is saliva diagnostics. Utilising saliva to identify and measure biomarkers has the potential to enable highly individualised diagnosis, prognosis and treatment.
The degree of variation in the salivary biome at a population level has not been studied extensively and the few studies that do exist do not take into account the Arab population or Qatari population.
“If data representing Arabs is missing, the first responsibility to fill that gap lies with us as Arab scientists. We hope this first-ever characterisation of the Qatari salivary microbiome will pave the way for future salivary diagnostic studies.”
To advance the field of saliva diagnostics, it is vital to create a comprehensive database of biomarkers that signal the presence of a disorder in saliva. Once fully catalogued, changes in biomarker levels can play a key role in maintaining well-being and early detection of diseases.
“The success of salivary diagnostics depends on the identification of clinically validated biomarkers that can be reliably linked to a specific disease and provide reliable targets for therapy,” said Dr al-Khodor.
In an ongoing project funded by QF’s Qatar National Research Fund, Dr al-Khodor is researching whether changes in the salivary microbiome and proteome can predict diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD), among others.
“The oral cavity is host to many microbes, and the question I am trying to answer is: can I, by analysing the biomarkers in a saliva sample know whether a patient is diabetic or is prone to CVD?” noted, Dr al- Khodor.
Another aspect the research aims to address how specific microbes contribute towards an individual developing a disease. For example: how is a particular bacterium putting a person at a high risk of CVD? Is it causing more fat assimilation? Is it contributing to an increase in blood pressure?
Bodily fluids like blood and urine have been used in diagnostics for decades, but there are reasons why scientists are now turning to saliva as well.
“Saliva is one of the most ideal diagnostic tools,” says Dr al-Khodor. “It is inexpensive, noninvasive, and easy to handle. More importantly, minimal patient discomfort makes it a favourable choice over other bodily fluids.
“Given their speed and cost effectiveness, salivary-based diagnostic techniques can potentially allow screening of an entire population for a specific disease in a timely fashion. Validated salivary biomarkers combined with powerful detection tools have the potential to open a new innovative frontier in personalised healthcare,” maintained, Dr al-Khodor.
“In the future, salivary tests may pave the way for chair-side diagnosis of multiple diseases, allowing real-time health monitoring, leading to personalised preventative medicine,” she added.
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