The next addition to the collection of health apps coming online for smartphones may be a stress test, researchers said at a recent conference.
With a simple tube, some software and a saliva sample, people and their doctors can measure levels of the stress hormone cortisol, according to new research presented last week at ICE/ENDO 2014, the joint meeting of the International Society of Endocrinology and the Endocrine Society 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," said lead investigator Dr. Joel Ehrenkranz, director of diabetes and endocrinology at Intermountain Healthcare in Murray, Utah.
While a commercial lab in the United States may charge up to $50 to run a quantitative salivary cortisol test and take up to a week to provide the results, the smartphone test will cost under $5 and give results in less than about 10 minutes, Ehrenkranz told Reuters Health in an interview.
"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," he said. "Also, measuring salivary cortisol with this technology will provide a way for individuals to monitor their personal biometric stress levels easily and inexpensively."
Ehrenkranz and his research team would like to see healthcare providers around the world, especially in low-resource areas, use the smartphone test to help diagnose disorders involving excessive cortisol or depletion of the hormone, and to allow cortisol levels to be monitored easily over time.
They'd also like the public to monitor their own cortisol levels whenever they want. So they designed their device to be inexpensive to manufacture, and easy to use on all cell phones, all platforms and all form factors.
It consists of a case, a light pipe, and a lens, it uses no battery power and it's unbreakable and reusable, they say.
For the developing world, it needs to be inexpensive, Ehrenkranz said, and it costs only about $1 to make.
Project collaborator Dr. Randall Polson, senior optical engineer in the College of Engineering at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, wrote in an email, "We are trying to make sure a skilled 8th-grader - a 12-year-old - can get accurate results."