Check your stress

Written by Jenny Straiton

Researchers have developed a stress sensor that allows patients to monitor their health and stress levels at home.

In today’s world there is a lot to be stressed about and the so-called “silent killer” can have devastating effects on both physical and mental health. Based on the levels of stress biomarkers in blood, sweat, urine or saliva, University of Cincinnati (OH, USA) researchers have now developed a simple stress sensor device that can be used at home to allow patients to monitor their health and check their stress levels.

“I wanted something that’s simple and easy to interpret,” commented author Andrew Steckl. “You’re not going to replace a full-panel laboratory blood test. That’s not the intent, but if you’re able to do the test at home because you’re not feeling well and want to know where you stand, this will tell whether your condition has changed a little or a lot. This may not give you all the information, but it tells you whether you need a professional who can take over.”

“Pilots are placed under enormous stress during missions. The ground controller would like to know when the pilot is reaching the end of his or her ability to control the mission properly and pull them out before a catastrophic ending.”

“It measures not just one biomarker but multiple biomarkers. And it can be applied to different bodily fluids. That’s what’s unique,” added Steckl.

The article, recently published in American Chemical Society Sensors, is part of a series of papers that Steckl’s group have written on biosensors, including one that reviews methods for point-of-care diagnostics of stress biomarkers.

The idea for a home stress test came from Steckl’s personal experience caring for his father. “I had to take him quite often to the lab or doctor to have tests done to adjust his medication. I thought it would be great if he could just do the tests himself to see if he was in trouble or just imagining things,” he explained. “This doesn’t replace laboratory tests, but it could tell patients more or less where they are.”



 

The test is likely to have widespread applications and the lab are pursing all possibilities. Funding was received from the US Military with interest coming from the Air Force Research Lab. “Pilots are placed under enormous stress during missions. The ground controller would like to know when the pilot is reaching the end of his or her ability to control the mission properly and pull them out before a catastrophic ending,” Steckl noted.

First author Prajokta Ray worked on the sensor as part of her PhD studies. “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 commented. “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.”

Understanding how stress affects you as an individual could be very valuable, especially in stressful situations such as exams she added. “Stress has been a hot topic over the past couple years. Researchers have tried very hard to develop a test that is cheap and easy and effective and detect these hormones in low concentrations. This test has the potential to make a strong commercial device. It would be great to see the research go in that direction.”