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Lollipop-Based Saliva Collection System Could Become New Gold Standard for Disease Diagnostics

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 12 Jul 2023
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Image: CandyCollect could replace throat swabs to diagnose respiratory illnesses (Photo courtesy of University of Washington)
Image: CandyCollect could replace throat swabs to diagnose respiratory illnesses (Photo courtesy of University of Washington)

Throat swabs are routinely used to obtain samples for the diagnosis of a wide variety of disorders, including strep throat. Saliva sampling, in which technicians analyze a patient’s spit using methods such as quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR), is a less-gag-inducing procedure. This approach is useful for at-home testing and saw greater use during the COVID-19 epidemic as this type of sample can be taken directly by a patient. However, collecting the required amount of saliva can be quite a distasteful experience. As a result, some scientists are aiming to make the process more delightful by mixing it with the equally drool-filled, though far more pleasant, experience of eating a lollipop.

Researchers at University of Washington (Seattle, WA, USA) have demonstrated for the first time that a lollipop-based saliva collection system is capable of capturing bacteria from adults and can remain shelf-stable for almost a year. CandyCollect, the lollipop collection device previously developed by the researchers, appears similar to a lollipop but features a spoon-like stick with a spiral-shaped groove carved into the top. This flattened end covered with isomalt candy enables saliva to easily flow into the groove as the lollipop is eaten. In an earlier study, the researchers had conducted lab tests that demonstrated CandyCollect was capable of capturing the bacteria causing strep throat. This time, the team focused on other naturally occurring bacteria and compared how CandyCollect performed among real people relative to other at-home saliva sampling methods available in the market.

The study involved 28 adult volunteers who received CandyCollect along with two conventional saliva sampling kits. After using them, the participants sent the devices back to the lab along with answers to specific survey questions. The research team eluted the samples and then quantified Streptococcus mutans and Staphylococcus aureus bacteria employing qPCR. They found that every time one or both of the conventional methods detected the target bacteria, CandyCollect was also successful in detecting them each time. The study participants also showed a greater preference for candies over conventional collection systems. CandyCollect was the most popular method out of the three devices among the volunteers who agreed that it was the “most sanitary” and “least disgusting.” Additionally, CandyCollect generated accurate results after being stored for a year. The findings suggest that CandyCollect is adaptable and preferred, but will continue to undergo further studies and could encourage others to design similar intuitive and easy-to-use at-home testing methods.

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