People will soon be able to monitor their health using a simple home-test capable of measuring stress hormones in their blood, saliva, sweat, or urine.
High stress levels have long been associated with increased risk for serious health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. However, no reliable tests have been developed yet that could properly tell just how stressed out a person may be.
This is what scientists from the University of Cincinnati sought out to create — a device that patients could use to diagnose their stress levels even at home.
Home-Testing Kit For Stress
In a study featured in the journal American Chemical Society Sensors, Andrew Steckl, a professor of electrical engineering at Cincinnati, led a team in developing a new diagnostic specifically designed to measure stress.
"I wanted something that's simple and easy to interpret," Steckl said.
"This may not give you all the information, but it tells you whether you need a professional who can take over."
The home-testing kit makes use of ultraviolet light to detect the amount of stress hormones found even in a single drop of blood, saliva, sweat, or urine. The researchers believe these biomarkers are present in all four bodily fluids, only in different amounts.
Steckl explained that their device can measure multiple biomarkers all at once. What is unique about their new technology is that can even detect biomarkers found in other fluids in the body as well.
The Cincinnati professor has been researching about biosensors for the past few years in Nanoelectronics Laboratory. The home-testing kit that they developed is part of a series of scientific studies he and his team have produced regarding such technologies.
One of the papers they have written discussed ways to create point-of-care diagnostics that can monitor biomarkers related to stress levels.
The study carries a personal significance to Steckl, whose father has been dealing with a health crisis of his own. Their struggles have helped shape the professor's research and opinion for a simple testing kit for various health concerns that people can easily do at home.
Steckl said he usually had to take his father to the doctor for some tests to adjust his medication. This inspired him to develop a diagnostic that his father can do even on his own.
While the new home-testing kit does not replace diagnostics done in laboratories, Steckl pointed out that it could help patients at least have an idea on the status of their health.
Uses Of The New Stress Diagnostic
The U.S. Air Force Research Lab and the National Science Foundation helped fund Cincinnati's research on stress monitoring.
Steckl said the military is interested in understanding how acute stress can affect pilots and others who depend on peak human performance.
He noted how air force pilots are often placed under immense stress on flights. It is important for ground controllers to know when pilots reach the end of their ability to control their aircraft so that they could have them called back before they suffer mishaps during missions.
Steckl and his colleagues see the potential of their stress testing kit even in commercial use.
Prajokta Ray, a graduate from Cincinnati and one of the authors of the study, expressed her excitement in helping develop a possible solution for diagnosing stress levels.
"Stress harms us in so many ways. And it sneaks up on you. You don't know how devastating a short or long duration of stress can be," she said.
"So many physical ailments such as diabetes, high blood pressure and neurological or psychological disorders are attributed to stress the patient has gone through. That's what interested me."
The University of Cincinnati is one of the leaders in the country regarding biosensor studies. The school's laboratories have been researching point-of-care tests capable of diagnosing medical conditions ranging from traumatic brain injuries to lead poisoning.