Wearable devices seem to be the future of healthcare. The tech has been super useful since discovery. Now, adding to the portfolio of these gadgets, researchers from Stanford University have created a new wearable device that can reveal the amount of cortisol a person is producing.
The hormone cortisol is a high target biomarker used in analyzing various important physiological functions in the body.
Cortisol by nature is produced on ‘demand,’ as the body responds to stress levels, and to the health status of its various functions.
Measuring Cortisol in the Lab
Based on the conventional methods for evaluating cortisol levels that doctors have been using, a person is required to visit a lab, have their body fluid taken for analysis, then wait a couple of days to pick their results.
Notice there is some waiting to be done, but the problem with this is, by the time the results are out and suggesting a specific treatment for a particular medical condition, chances are, things might be different from the time the test was taken.
That’s ideally why this new technique makes a lot of sense. As in, a team from Stanford University led by Alberto Salleo a material scientist, has managed to develop a stretchy patch that substitutes how cortisol levels can be measured.
When applied to the skin directly, the patch wicks up sweat and measures the amount of sweat the wearer is producing, in seconds.
Sweat Sensing in Healthcare
Researchers are becoming more interested in sweat sensing. Reason being, it is a noninvasive option that can be used as a monitor for different biomarkers for a wide array of physiological conditions.
“Sweat sensing offers a new and special approach for early detection of diseases as well as evaluation of sports performance,” said Onur Parlak lead author of the paper at Salleo lab. The report also appears in the current issue of Science Advances.
Cortisol Offers Objective Insights
Tests that analyze cortisol levels give an objective and important insight of emotional and physical stress. This helps doctors and health practitioners tell if their patient’s pituitary or adrenal gland is healthy and working as supposed.
Meaning, when the prototype version of this wearable device finally becomes a reality and hits the market, it would allow folks living with imbalance to monitor their cortisol levels on their own at home.
The test could also help reveal the present emotional state of non-verbal young children who cannot communicate their emotions.
The Device in Detail
According to Salleo and Parlak, it’s like this discovery came by chance. The concept stemmed from a simple suggestion at a conference, where a fellow researcher pointed out that it would be nice to have a sensor that could detect cortisol levels.
By then, the sensor at their disposal could only detect molecules with either positive or negative charge, which kept cortisol out of the equation because it has no charge orientation.
As such, Parlak and his team took the challenge and managed to develop the rectangular-shaped stretchy sensor basically from a membrane that binds only to cortisol. When placed on the skin, the sensor membrane sucks in available sweat via holes located at the bottom of the patch.
Potassium, sodium and other charged ions found in sweat by default would pass across the membrane unless obstructed by cortisol. Now, what happens is that the sensor in question would detect these backed up charged irons, not the cortisol in particular. The device also has a waterproof layer designed to shield the patch from contamination.
Real Life Test, Optimizing and Diversifying the Tech
As at current the sensor seem to work perfectly well as intended and was tested on volunteers who ran for 20 minutes while wearing the patch. The real world test was then compared to lab results and they emerged exactly the same.
While that is super promising, the researchers don’t want to stop there. First, they want to make the sensor reusable (currently it gets saturated,) and optimize it to be more accurate and reliable.
They also plan to try the cortisol sensor on other body fluids like saliva or maybe urine so that patients don’t have to sweat for it to work, and also to make it a tool that measures various biomarkers at the same time.