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Doctors using saliva to screen for scoliosis

June 13, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
What causes scoliosis, or an S curve of the spine, remains a mystery. But researchers do know some people are predisposed and they've created a screening test that can accurately predict what will eventually happen to a child's spine.

A few months after scoliosis surgery, 28-year-old Jenna Menking can't believe the difference. But she's lived half her life in pain and discomfort.

"Once I hit the 30 degree mark, they put me in a brace when I was 16 or 17, which was the most uncool thing ever, of course, having to wear that to school," she recalled.

She first found out she had a curved spine when she was 14 and it just kept getting worse. Ten percent of children will develop mild scoliosis, but the director of Cedars-Sinai's Orthopedic Spine Surgery says about two to three percent will go on to get severe curvature. But it's hard to know which kids will need surgery unless you keep track with regular X-rays.

"When you look at X-rays over a period of four, five, six years of growth period, it is a lot of radiation," said Dr. Neel Anand.

A new test called ScoliScore allows doctors to screen with saliva.

"There is a genetic test available today that helps us a least predicate or predict how fast the scoliosis will progress," said Dr. Anand.

The ScoliScore test is performed in the physician's office by collecting a saliva sample, which is sent to a lab for two or three weeks. The test then assigns a numerical value to the patient between one to 200.

"If you have a high score, you have a high probability you're going to progress and develop significant scoliosis. If u have a low score, your probability of developing scoliosis or progressing scoliosis is very low," said Dr. Anand.

He says it can be useful in testing the siblings of scoliosis patients. Early screening won't change the treatment plan, but it can give many families peace of mind.

Menking sees how it could save parents a lot of grief.

"If you could test kids when they were 7 or 8 before they had any idea and they didn't have to go through what I went through, so they were able to kind of treat it and not have to wear the back brace to everything in high school, that would be really nice," she said.

To find out more about the test and minimally invasive ways to surgically treat scoliosis, go to www.infospine.net.

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