Associate Professor Chamindie Punyadeera

IHBI / School of Biomedical Sciences

With an aging and growing population, comes the challenge of combatting diseases such as Type-2 diabetes, Heart Diseases and Cancers. As such, there is an urgent need to develop affordable, non/minimally-invasive diagnostic tests that can be used for population based screening studies. There is strong scientific evidence linking oral health to systemic diseases and attention has turned to saliva as a diagnostic fluid for the future. Saliva functions as a plasma ultra-filtrate and harbours over 2000 different proteins and about 30% of them are shared with blood. Saliva contains proteins that are either transported into saliva or produced by the salivary glands. Saliva collection is easy, non-invasive and allows for real-time assessment of health and disease status.

My team at QUT has identified heart tissue specific biomarkers in saliva to diagnose heart failure and ischemic heart diseases. We have also been able to correlate salivary biomarkers to blood biomarkers making these as ideal diagnostics. We are currently exploring the possibility of using these biomarkers to screen people who are at a risk of developing these diseases.

With the rapid rise of oral cavity cancers and human papilloma virus associated oropharyngeal cancers, it then becomes important to develop easy methods to detect these diseases. Using salivary oral rinses, we have been able to detect human papilloma virus with a sensitivity of 93% and specificity of 100% in head and neck cancer patients. Currently, we are developing this assay to be used in population based screening.

We have also developed a minimally invasive method (using circulating tumour cells) to identify cancer patients at risk of developing secondary tumors before clinical presentation. We have also demonstrated that using circulating tumour cells we can identify therapeutic targets making personalized medicine a reality. Through detecting diseases at an earlier stage in the disease trajectory, we will be able to treat patients in a pre-symptomatic (before clinical presentation) state before manifestation into a full blown disease. The innovativeness of our strategy promises to stand out from the current practice, which is to seek medical attention when clinical symptoms are present.

We aim to deliver next generation of non-invasive diagnostics to provide better healthcare outcomes for people living in developed and emerging economies.

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