Creating Inexpensive and Rapid Disease Diagnostic Tests for Use in Limited Resource Areas


Not all areas of the world are fortunate enough to have access to full medical labs. Clinical diagnosis can be challenging in limited resource areas of the world. Image Source: Flickr User US Army Africa

In November, the American Society of Nephrology (ASN) Kidney Week unveiled a simple and inexpensive saliva test for the diagnosis of kidney disease.1 The study, which was performed in Malawi, proved it is possible for technology to reliably indicate elevated levels of blood urea nitrogen (BUN),screening CKD patients with elevated BUN. This is a fantastic way to deal with diagnostics in low resource countries as it can help with disease and illness management while eliminating excessive, population-wide blood testing.

As research progresses, it is becoming clear that this is not the only test of its type and these rapid and reliable tests are garnering a lot of attention. While researchers endeavour to develop rapid tests from biomarkers, innovative lab software can help manage results and better organize workflows.

Biomarkers in Saliva

Dating back a number of years, researchers have been more seriously pursuing biomarkers in spit that reach well beyond your usual plaque and tartar indicators. Research at a university in Sweden indicated a number of years ago that cancer and a number of other serious illnesses may make their presence known in saliva.2 At the time, the researchers were excited about the ability for subjects to take a swab test at home, then send it in to avoid unnecessary doctors visits. One major challenge in this realm is the accurate collection of data and proper identification of true biomarkers on the doctors’ and researchers’ end, a process which may be eased with innovative lab software.

In the last year, researchers at Loughborough University have published two papers, one independently and one with researchers at the University of Cordoba, about using one saliva test to diagnose asthma via its related saliva-borne metabolome3 and another one to assess whether a patient has alcohol poisoning or been drugged with GHB.4

The researchers noted in both papers that a major complication of dealing with saliva for analysis is its variability. While much easier to collect and collect passively, the acidity levels in the mouth may fluctuate and change the population of bacteria as well as the nature of the measurements being taken.This process may be made easier and more reliable by using comprehensive lab software. By using a digital solution, it is possible to go beyond data collection and transition directly into analysis. Finding a consistent, spit-borne biomarker for a disease such as cancer will be very challenging as there are many factors to account for, but by using a digital laboratory solution, researchers can work through a repository of data to mine for consistent information between tests.

Creating Simple, Rapid Testing

Although the kidney disease test is ready for use in limited resource areas, the asthma and GHB/alcohol poisoning tests are still in the refinement stages. Although the techniques used are relatively simple—liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry and gas chromatography-differential mobility spectrometry—they still aren’t as simple as a dipstick test. The author’s claim they would like their tests to be as “simple as taking temperature with a thermometer,”5 there are a number of investigative steps to take in the interim. They have not yet given specific indicators as to what these rapid tests will entail, but no doubt the process will be made significantly easier by the implementation of innovative organizational software.

There are a number of steps between present data and where the investigators wish to go; it will involve streamlining a number of processes and reducing redundant testing to save R&D funding.  BIOVIA Electronic Laboratory Notebooks can assist researchers in reducing time spent looking for data by 50%, reduce repeat experiments by 25% and improve productivity by 25% while removing all non-value added manual activities and errors. There is a lot of data to sift through when looking at saliva and repeat experiments can easily be done unintentionally; let BIOVIA alleviate those concerns. Please contact us today to learn more about how our software options can support the efforts of your lab.

  1. “Simple saliva test may help clinicians diagnose kidney disease,” November 19, 2016,
  2. “Saliva samples can reveal serious illnesses,” July 29, 2013,
  3. “Untargeted metabolic profiling of saliva by liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry for the identification of potential diagnostic biomarkers of asthma,” June 20, 2016,!divAbstract
  4. “A rapid and non-invasive method to determine toxic levels of alcohols and -hydroxybutyric acid in saliva samples by gas chromatography-differential mobility spectrometry,” January 8, 2016,;jsessionid=A129DE79E7FACBCD189943670DC0B9C2.ip-10-40-1-114
  5. “Saliva test to detect GHB and alcohol poisonings,” January 8, 2016,