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Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in Duke Nursing magazine
Durham, NC - It's often thought of as unhygienic, rude, or even disgusting, but spitting actually has its benefits, especially for researchers. That was the idea behind the "Spit Camp" held at the School of Nursing in June.
During the seminar, Jennifer Jewell, technical education specialist for Salimetrics, gave faculty and students an overview of how to integrate salivary measures into scientific studies. She covered a wide range of saliva-related topics, including the basic biology of oral fluids, what can be learned from saliva, and how to collect samples.
Diane Holditch-Davis,Marcus E. Hobbs Distinguished Professor of Nursing, hosted the event, which was one of several spit camps offered by the company Salimetrics at universities across the country. She says she attended her first spit camp while a faculty member at UNC, and found it to be helpful.
"You can get many of the same biochemical markers from saliva as blood," Holditch-Davis says. "There are advantages for both the researcher and the patient. It's less expensive and invasive, and you don't even have to have a person who is cooperative."
Sharron L. Docherty knows this firsthand. She didn't participate in Duke's spit camp, but she has used saliva samples in two NIH-funded studies and touts the advantages of the research method, particularly when working with small children.
Docherty, an associate professor, has studied how life-sustaining treatments on the quality of life of children with life-threatening illnesses and their parents. She says children get a kick out of giving saliva samples with a stick attached to a cotton pad that turns blue after holding it in their mouths like a lollipop.
In her research, she collected samples to measure the hormone cortisol and determine physiologic stress levels. Such biomarkers can give researchers like Docherty a better understanding of how medical treatments affect patients, not just on a psycho-social level, but also from a biological standpoint.
"No matter how effective a treatment is in extending quantity of life, it's also important to look at whether the treatment is improving quality of life as well," she explains. "Studying the biopsychosocial aspect gives us a more complete picture."
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