Intermountain researchers develop new stress test app

Researchers have devised a mobile stress test, tied to hormone level measurement, which can be conducted on the fly with a smartphone, an app and a saliva sample for a fraction of current testing costs, according to a Reuters report.

To conduct the test, a user puts saliva on an assay strip, then feeds it into a cassette that is part of a reader connected to the smartphone, according to Reuters. A lens and light diffuser are aligned with the device's camera and flash, which allows it to conduct the analysis of the cortisol hormone through the app. Results of research conducted on the app was presented at the International Congress of Endocrinology in late June in Chicago.

"We have designed a method by which anyone with a smartphone will be able to measure their salivary cortisol level quickly, easily and inexpensively," lead investigator Joel Ehrenkranz, director of diabetes and endocrinology at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, told Reuters.

A commercial lab stress test costs up to $50 and typically takes a week for results, according to Reuters. The smartphone test, researchers said, should cost under $5, as it takes less than $1 to make, and provides results in less than 10 minutes.

Last winter, Joseph Kvedar, founder and director of Partners HealthCare's Center for Connected Health, predicted that mood tracking apps could be the next phase of "self-health" mobile technologies. 

"Up until now we've thought about tracking mainly vital signs [heart rate, blood pressure, weight, blood glucose] and more recently activity, via the myriad of devices for this purpose," Kvedar, who also is a member of the FierceHealthIT Editorial Advisory Board, wrote in a blog post. "We need to expand tracking beyond vital signs and start to collect data that provides further context for your state of health. ... Just think of how much more powerful it will be for your primary care doctor to not only know your blood pressure and activity level, but your mood and state of motivation."

In October, the Center for Connected Health announced the launch of Wellocracy, an online guide to help consumers use mHealth applications such as mobile mood apps that track a person's emotions or happiness throughout the day.

The Intermountain stress test, Ehrenkranz said, could one day help diagnosis other hormonal issues, such as excessive or low levels of cortisol, as well as help those at risk for psychotic depression.

"Parts of the United States and the rest of the world that lack facilities to measure cortisol will now be able to perform this essential diagnostic test," Ehrenkranz told Reuters. "Also, measuring salivary cortisol with this technology will provide a way for individuals to monitor their personal biometric stress levels easily and inexpensively."

For more information:
- read the research abstract
- read the Reuters article

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