Behavioral Diagnostics (BD) LLC, an Iowa City-based biotechnology company in the UI Venture School, received the first installment of a $900,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a quantitative test for smoking that uses saliva DNA.

Smoking is the largest preventable cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States. Each year, smoking causes the death of 500,000 Americans and inflicts nearly $300 billion of economic damages on the United States. The new saliva DNA-based test will diminish these damages by allowing precision medicine-based approaches, including incentive-based methods, to be routinely used in all health care settings for those with addictive disorders.

"In order for research and policy in substance use disorders to move forward, we need ways to objectively assess risk for the development of these disorders, to measure acute and lifetime exposure, and to monitor recovery," Tracy Gunter, collaborator on the project, forensic psychiatrist and associate professor of psychiatry at Indiana University, stated in a press release. "Trying to use self-report of substance used to measure these behaviors frequently leaves us chasing the disorders rather than treating them."

This saliva-based smoking test allows sensitive quantitative measurements of cigarette consumption to guide smoking cessation and prevention efforts while avoiding the costs and discomfort of a blood draw.  In addition, the test will enable employers and accountable care organizations to cheaply assess and minimize potential health-care costs from prospective employees and clients.

BD expects that its previous epigenetic offering, which will measure smoking consumption using DNA from whole blood, will be available for the research market in October with first commercial implementation early next spring.  Over the next several years, both the smoking and alcohol tests will be submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for introduction to the clinical diagnostic market.