Faculty and Staff, Research

UNC Researchers Locate Diabetic Indicator in Saliva

Recently, School of Dentistry researchers published study findings that show healthcare providers may be able to monitor diabetic status through protein markers in saliva. This could lead to better oral and overall health for patients with Type 2 diabetes through more effective management of their diabetic condition.

In the study published in Molecular Biosystems, researchers compared the salivary proteins from denture wearers who have no teeth (edentulous) with and without Type 2 diabetes. The results indicated a possible marker for diagnosing and monitoring diabetic condition. This study is the first to look for salivary protein indicators for diabetes in edentulous subjects; all previous similar studies had been done in dentate subjects, or subjects with teeth. This research furthers saliva’s value as a diagnostic tool as it has already been proven to have some potential for diagnosing other conditions such as cancer, infection and cardiovascular disease.

“Essentially, this means that dentists could test a patient’s saliva and determine diabetic status based on those results,” said Dr. Sompop Bencharit, lead researcher and assistant professor in the Department of Prosthodontics. “In the future, because we may be able to monitor diabetes using saliva, we may also be able to prevent tooth loss and degeneration of a patient’s overall health due to worsening diabetes.”

Diabetes, a chronic disease that often requires life-long monitoring and treatment, affects over 25 million people in the U.S. Due to diabetes-associated morbidity caused by micro- and macrovascular disease, almost 14 percent of U.S. health expenditures are spent treating this disease. Close monitoring of blood sugar levels is critical in living with diabetes as untreated or uncontrolled diabetes can lead to serious complications such as kidney failure, blindness and cardiovascular disease, among others. Unfortunately, many patients – especially elderly, very young and teenage patients – do not monitor their blood sugar regularly because sampling their own blood can be time consuming or necessary at inconvenient times.

“Since saliva samples can be obtained non-invasively without needing to prick a patient’s finger, the hope is that by using saliva as a diagnostic fluid for diabetes patients would become more compliant in monitoring their blood sugar,” said Dr. Bencharit.

Dr. Bencharit worked with a number of other investigators on this research, including Dr. John Buse, chief of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism and director of the UNC Diabetes Care Center; Dr. Steven Offenbacher, chair of the School of Dentistry Department of Periodontology; and Dr. Sarah Schwartz, an expert in mass spectrometry at the David H. Murdock Research Institute.

This study was partly supported by the National Institute of Health (NIH) grant HL092338 through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute (NC TraCS).

To see the complete study, please visithttp://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2012/mb/c2mb05079j.