Researchers at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah, have developed new smartphone technology to help screen patients for a number of adrenal gland diseases, including Cushing’s syndrome. Additionally, the new tool also helps to identify adrenal insufficiency, monitor cortisol replacement and assess physiologic changes in adrenal function.
Adrenal diseases are commonly overlooked because measuring cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone” that is released by the adrenal glands as part of the fight-or-flight mechanism, is costly and complicated, especially for those with limited resources.
“When cortisol levels are overlooked too many people suffer and die because of excess or insufficient cortisol,” said Joel Ehrenkranz, MD, director of diabetes and endocrinology at Intermountain Medical Center, and lead researcher of the project.
Adrenal diseases are commonly overlooked because measuring cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone” is costly and complicated, especially for those with limited resources.To help solve this problem, researchers developed a simple saliva test that uses a smartphone and an attached device that work with an accompanying app which can quantify and interpret the results of a salivary cortisol assay and give results in five minutes at the point of care.
The idea for creating an easy and inexpensive test for cortisol first came to Dr. Ehrenkranz in 2007, while he was visiting Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda. At that time, he couldn’t test patient’s cortisol levels because the test would take too long and be too costly for the patient to afford. After drawing her blood, physicians would need to send the blood sample to a lab in Nairobi, Kenya, and by the time they received the results, the patient would likely have died.
The new technology will also help diabetic patients for whom controlling stress levels is key to controlling cortisol levels. Stress increases the levels of cortisol in their body, and elevations in cortisol impair the body’s ability to metabolize glucose, which in turn increases blood glucose levels. High cortisol levels also affect the body’s ability to fight infections, lose weight and recovery from injury.
“What this means is when blood cortisol levels are too high, insulin will not lower blood sugar,” said Dr. Ehrenkranz. “Elevations in cortisol decrease the effectiveness of insulin and other drugs used in the treatment of diabetes. Having the ability to easily and inexpensively measure cortisol levels is important in managing diabetes.”
In addition to Dr. Ehrenkranz, Theodore Espiritu, and Randall Polson, PhD were also involved with the project.