Tattoo research progressing steadily

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So far, 20 people have decided to get tattooed — a first for some of them — as part of an ongoing research that aims to show the link between ink work and a robust immune system.

"It's been going well," said Dr. Michaela Howells, an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, who, along with Dr. Christopher D. Lynn, Associate Professor and Director of Evolutionary Studies at the University of Alabama's College of Arts and Sciences (Department of Anthropology) are in the territory spearheading a study that could prove the common Samoan belief that tattooing a certain area of the body helps alleviate things like gout and arthritis.

The study kicked off earlier this month and ends this Friday.

More local artists have joined the cause, making it that much more exciting, said Dr. Howells.

Joseph Ioane of Off Da Rock Tattoos, Duffy Hudson of Tatau Manaia, and master tufuga Wilson Fitiao have come together to help out with the study, offering discounted rates for those wanting to get tattooed as part of the project.

"I couldn't be happier with the way things are going right now," Dr. Howells told Samoa News yesterday afternoon, adding that data collecting is ongoing until this Friday, when she departs the territory with the saliva samples that will be tested.

Her counterpart, Dr. Christopher D. Lynn, had to rush off island last Friday due to a family emergency, leaving Dr. Howells to wrap up the final week on her own.

"We just need about ten more people to come in and get tattooed as part of the study," she said.

According to her, those who have already been inked as part of the research include an equal amount of Samoans and Caucasians, an equal amount of males and females, with the oldest client being in his mid-50s and the youngest being 18 years old.

"It's just been really positive and we look forward to hopefully returning later this year," said Dr. Howells, who indicated that connections will be made with Samoan students studying abroad, who are interested in being part of the study, whether as a researcher or a test subject — or both.

"This whole project has been a collaborative work with the great team of local artists who deserve a lot of props for this," she added.

The goal of the study is to find out if tattoos help prime a person's immune system against the threat of infectious disease.

A small study conducted earlier by Dr. Lynn did prove that the immune system for those who get tattooed is stronger than those without any ink work. The goal now is to conduct the same study in American Samoa. The results of Dr. Lynn's initial study was shared by over 300 news networks across the country "so this is something that we take very seriously," Dr. Howells said during an initial interview.

The initial study looked at over two dozen test subjects who had to provide saliva samples before and after getting tattooed. Dr. Howells explained that after being tattooed, the immune system of the test subjects - based on the analysis of their saliva samples — was stronger and more 'robust' compared to before they were tattooed.

Those who agree to be part of the local study have to answer a few questions about their tattoo experience, and a spit sample is collected from them before and after they get tattooed, to measure changes in stress and immune hormones.

The study has been approved by the LBJ Institutional Review Board.

According to Dr. Lynn, "With only a few exceptions, the only biological studies of tattooing that have been conducted has focused on negative things like dermatological issues associated with tattooing or associations between tattooing and drug/alcohol use or teen pregnancy. There are so many things we don't know about the biological impacts and possible benefits of tattooing."

Being part of the study is strictly voluntary.

More information on the study, and how to become a part of it, can be obtained by calling Dr. Michaela Howells directly at 733-9592

(See original story in the July 10th edition of Samoa News).

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