Researchers at the University of Cincinnati have developed a simple biosensor that uses UV light to measure levels of stress hormones in saliva, blood, urine, or sweat. The researchers hope that the test will eventually be available as an at-home test kit that people can use to assess their stress. Other applications include monitoring people in high-stress positions, such as pilots, to ensure that they are capable of performing their job safely.

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Stress is related to a variety of health issues, and is difficult to measure empirically without a routine lab test. This means that quick and repeated testing to keep track of progress at home is out of the question. “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,” said Prajokta Ray, a researcher involved in the study. “Many physical ailments such as diabetes, high blood pressure and neurological or psychological disorders are attributed to stress the patient has gone through.”

A simple test to measure stress biomarkers would be very useful in helping people to maintain their health and make lifestyle changes to reduce stress-related illness. Ray and her colleagues at the University of Cincinnati have developed a simple biosensor to measure levels of stress hormones in a variety of biological fluids. The sensor needs just a drop of blood, urine, saliva, or sweat, and can measure a number of stress markers at the same time.


“It measures not just one biomarker but multiple biomarkers,” said Andrew Steckl, another researcher involved in the study. “And it can be applied to different bodily fluids. That’s what’s unique. This may not give you all the information, but it tells you whether you need a professional who can take over.”

The microfluidic test measures numerous stress biomarkers, including hormones and neurotransmitters. By using a UV light emitting diode and a photodiode, the device assesses the optical absorption of the stress biomarkers in biological samples, and provides an indication of their levels. The researchers hope that a commercial version will be possible, so that people can perform these tests at home.

“You’re not going to replace a full-panel laboratory blood test. That’s not the intent,” said Steckl. “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.”

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