When it comes to fighting chronic and terminal illnesses, early detection means everything. Once upon a time, that was a real challenge. We simply lacked affordable, accessible, and accurate diagnostic tools.

That’s rapidly changing on a number of disease fronts, though — cancer, diabetes, HIV, etc. But Alzheimer’s and dementia have been harder to catch early, in part because doctors have only recently begun to understand the causes and predispositions.

CNN has a promising new report, though. Researchers recently announced a cutting-edge saliva detection test that could tell patients if they’re vulnerable to Alzheimer’s with a simple swab and a few minutes of patience.

“Though research is still in its infancy,” CNN says, “the saliva test represents the exciting future of diagnostic tools in development for the detection of the neurodegenerative disease.”

Can scientists really find Alzheimer’s in saliva of all things?

Yes, more or less. Technically, they’re looking for metabolites, which are molecules created by chemical changes in the brain. Some specific metabolites have been linked to neurological changes specific to memory loss or dementia, and those are the metabolites the new test looks for.

Conclusive? No. Final? No. Promising? Extremely.

This Alzheimer’s detection test is just the latest brushstroke in a new picture of the future, when serious diseases might be diagnosed in mere minutes using nothing more than a cotton swab or (in some cases) an iPhone.

If we’ve learned this much in only a few years, just imagine how much more we might know by this next time next year!

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