Spit determines scoliosis risk

November 23, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
More than half a million visits are made to doctors' offices each year to evaluate and treat spine curvatures.

Most common in adolescents between ten and 15, scoliosis can mean excruciating pain or death. Now there's a way to help doctors figure out a patient's risk without guessing or over-testing.

Alyssa smith loves staying active.

"I like doing dives and jumps and flips," Alyssa Smith said.

But scoliosis could threaten that.

"She was fine last year. And then she had a physical this year and she was at 20 degrees, 21 degrees," Alyssa's mother, Andrea Smith, told Action News.

And it could get worse. It did for her mom, Andrea.

"When I hit my growth spurt at 13, the curve excelled, it went just over 70 degrees," Andrea said.

Andrea's curve looked much like this. At 13 she had surgery to fix it.

Now a saliva test is being used to predict how severe Alyssa's curve will be.

"If that risk is very high, like it was with her mothers, we may be able to use novel treatments or start earlier bracing to prevent her progression to surgery; and we didn't have that information before," Dr. Suken A. Shah from Nemours Alfred I. DuPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, DE, said.

It's called Scoliscore. Doctor Suken Shah says it's more than 98% accurate. The test uses DNA from saliva to determine scoliosis risk.

"It eliminates all the inefficiency in medical care that we currently have: over-treatment, over x-ray, bringing down the cost of medicine, to those patients that actually need it," Dr. Shah said.

No matter what the result, Alyssa says she'll get through it.

"Just keep strong and don't worry about it," Alyssa said.

And keep doing what kids do.

Scoliscore screens for 53 genetic markers to determine risk. Doctors know the test works for the genetic markers in Caucasian children, but a test for Asian and African American children is being developed.

If you would like more information, please contact:

Steve Maurer
Spine and Scoliosis Center
(302) 651-5012
smaurer@nemours.org


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