Researchers have developed a new saliva-based HIV test that, according to a small study, is accurate and may be able to detect the virus earlier than other assays that rely on spit, Newsweek reports.

Publishing their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers developed a test that capitalized on the fact that antibodies have two arms, each of which attaches to HIV. The scientists affixed an HIV antigen—a protein fragment of the virus to which antibodies bind—to each end of a single-stranded piece of DNA. Consequently, if there are HIV antibodies in an individual’s saliva, each antibody’s arm will attach to antigens on either end of the DNA, causing the two single strands of DNA to come together into a continuous strand, thus making that genetic material easier to detect.

This new test correctly identified an HIV infection in 22 study participants, each of whom had tested positive with standard tests. There were no false positives among an additional 22 HIV-negative participants.

Preliminary experiments suggest that the investigatory saliva test can identify HIV earlier in the course of infection compared with currently available spit-based assays. However, this experimental test will not likely identify new HIV infections as early as a blood test can.

To read the Newsweek article, click here.

To read a press release about the study, click here.