Kits to take saliva samples at home and send samples for DNA analysis, already used for selected commercial applications such as paternity testing and genetic disease risk prediction, is being put to new use. A UK charity, the Anthony Nolan Trust, has launched a new system to recruit members of the public to the donor stem cell register using saliva samples (see BBC news).
Previously, registering as a potential stem cell donor necessitated a blood sample taken by a healthcare professional. The charity hopes to boost recruitment with this new and more convenient approach; donors will need to send the saliva sample along with a completed medical questionnaire. Their DNA samples will be analysed to determine basic tissue type. Should a possible match between a registered donor and a patient recipient arise, the donor will be contacted for further tests; if the donor agrees and is compatible with the patient, blood stem cells or bone marrow can be taken and used to treat leukaemia or other blood disorders in the recipient.
Chief executive Henny Braund said, “We urgently need to increase the number of people on our register, and saliva testing will help us do that much more quickly and effectively” (see press release). It is also hoped that the kits will facilitate testing of family members to identify tissues matches for people who need transplants.