A Fourth Degree in A Fourth Continent

Dr. Maria Danet Lapiz Bluhm describes herself as a lifelong learner.

With a Bachelor of Science Honours degree from Australia, a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing from the Philippines, a doctorate degree from England, she just completed her fourth degree.

Dr. Bluhm, a recent graduate in the Master’s of Science in Clinical Investigation program, explained that she was excited to get a degree from the United States.

“This is my fourth degree in a fourth continent, I’m not sure if I want to do another one but it would have to be in Africa,” she joked.

Dr. Bluhm first came to UT Health Science Center San Antonio as a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. David Morilak’s lab in the Department of Pharmacology.

“I did studies on the mechanisms associated with the effects of stress on neurotransmitter systems and mental health disorders,” she said. “It was exciting but but there was something missing — — I wanted to translate my scientific knowledge using animal models to patient-oriented research.”

Her love for working with patients and a career development funding from the Clinical Translational Science Award (CSTSA) program under the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio’s Institute for Integration of Medicine and Science (IIMS) led her to pursue the Master’s of Science in Clinical Investigation.

In her dissertation, Dr. Bluhm looked at ways to improve saliva collection methods for biomarker research. As a stress researcher, she explained the advantage of using saliva when measuring hormones related to stress.

“Blood collection itself can increase stress hormone levels which is why I prefer to use saliva. It is easier to collect, cheaper, and people can collect it in their own environments at any time rather than in the lab,” she said.

Dr. Bluhm explained the two common methods for saliva collection: passive drool and swab.

“In the passive drool, the participant pools the saliva in the floor of the mouth and collects it through a straw to a container. This method allows visualization of the saliva collected, which assures both the participant and the researcher that sample was collected. However, some participants think this method is messy and non-discrete, which may affect research participation. The swab method collects saliva by putting an absorbent cotton swab material inside the mouth, which is more discrete. Unfortunately, the researcher would not know if saliva was collected until after the swab is centrifuged. This has been associated with missing data for key time points of the study design.”

Dr. Bluhm explained that because of the problems associated with both methods, she tested a proposed hybrid method where participants pool saliva in the floor of the mouth and use swab to collect it.

“Our studies show this hybrid method which we call “pool-swab” is as reliable as the passive drool in terms of saliva volume collected. The participants prefer pool-swab as the method of collection for saliva compared to passive drool,” she said.

Dr. Bluhm is currently funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholars Program to determine cognitive and neuronal markers for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in active duty military members with PTSD, a study affiliated with the STRONG STAR Consortium.

“Knowing the relevant biomarkers of the disorder could help us understand the condition and develop novel treatments or interventions to prevent it,” she said.

In addition to her research, Dr. Bluhm also teaches nursing research in the School of Nursing for undergraduate and graduate students.

“I like showing students that research is important for the nursing profession and evidence based practice….it gets them to think about current practices and if there are evidence for them, locate evidence and help evidence-based practices into the bedside. I love seeing students engage in research.”

This article is part of the “Meet The Researcher” series which showcases researchers at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.

Copyright © 2017 The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio



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UT Health San Antonio Grad School

The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UT Health Science Center in San Antonio offers academic programs in the biomedical sciences.