In the News: A Swab test for Progression of Scoliosis

S Curve Scoliosis Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis, or AIS, is a spine deformity that affects 3% of U.S. children. We all remember the tests in school, where nurses, not professionally trained in detecting scoliosis in the first place, would have us line up and stand against the wall to see if our backs were straight. Then we would do the familiar 'bend from the waist'--and that was when every other student was told about scoliosis. But what then? Would the curve get better, stay the same, or worsen?

That was the real question for many patients, who found that curves that get progressively worse (i.e., go from a "C" curve to an "S" curve) can cause problems such as restricted breathing and could eventually lead to rods being inserted surgically. Some patients are treated with an external brace, but the brace itself does nothing to correct the spine curvature: It only keeps it static while the patient is still maturing. What has been developed is a oral test that can tell us not just an initial diagnosis of scoliosis, but whether or not the progression will necessitate surgical intervention. Axial Biotech, a research facility based in Salt Lake City specializing in spine health, started to develop SCOLISCORE--their name for the swab test--while studying degenerative disc disease. They stumbled upon 53 genetic markers that pointed to AIS and its progressive stages. Axial's discovery is being released on the market by Johnson & Johnson.

The process is spelled out in Axial's patent. According to their research, SCOLISCORE should be able to detect "at least one of a scoliosis existence condition, a scoliosis development condition, and a scoliosis curve progression condition". This is done by the use of SNPs. SNP stands for Single Nucleotide Polymorphism, and these are found in our DNA. SNPs mark points of transition in our genetic code, much like a semicolon is used in punctuation to separate two different phrases. At times the sequences that follow an SMP may be considered complex—this means the sequences are for something out of the ordinary, like a mutation or an illness. Particular SNPs have been identified as being placeholders for scoliosis genes. The swab test that is being distributed detects the presence, number, and location of the SNPs associated with scoliosis.

The test is intended for adolescents with mild AIS, meaning that they have a Cobb angle of 10-25 degrees. SCOLISCORE cannot detect risk factors of scoliosis, nor can it detect predisposition to the spinal deformity. SCOLISCORE is not designed for at-home use; rather, it is being distributed to spine disease and injury specialists around the country.

For more information about SCOLISCORE, visit Axial Biotech's website at