Researchers at the University of Birmingham in the UK have developed a wearable that can assist in keeping track of stress hormone levels in the body over time. Disregulated stress hormones can play a role in various disease states, from heart disease to depression. However, until now, researchers had to perform blood draws to measure stress hormone levels, meaning that they could obtain just one snapshot in time of hormone levels or repeated blood draws over time, neither of which are ideal. This latest technology, called U-RHYTHM, acts as a wearable sampling device, and can obtain stress hormone samples from beneath the skin every 20 minutes for long time periods. These tissue fluid samples can then be analyzed at a later time using liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry to determine changes in stress hormone levels over the course of a day, providing a more complete picture of stress hormone dysfunction.
Adrenal steroid hormones, such as cortisone, can play a role in various diseases, ranging from cardiac disease, obesity, and depression. However, obtaining a true picture of how levels of these hormones change over the day has been tricky, and has required repeated invasive blood draws. In fact, researchers had not even properly defined the normal rhythms of such hormones in healthy people, meaning there was no established baseline with which to compare such data.
The new U-RHYTHM device aims to change this. It consists of a wearable that is worn around the waist, and which can take multiple tissue fluid draws from under the skin. The device takes a sample every 20 minutes over the course of a day. “This is a fascinating new technology that is enabling us to make new discoveries about how hormonal regulation works, while the mathematical analysis is enabling us to generate new ideas about precision diagnosis and design personalised medicine interventions that better support patients,” said Eder Zavala, a researcher involved in the study.
While the device itself does not measure the levels of stress hormones, the samples can be later analyzed through liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry. The device can take samples for a period of 72 hours and works while users are sleeping and performing other daily activities. So far, the researchers have used the device with healthy volunteers, and have begun to build up a picture of hormonal changes over time.
“Our results provide significant new insights into how the stress hormone system works in healthy people, and emphasises the importance of measuring change, not just sampling at single points,” said Stafford Lightman, another researcher involved in the study. “It also highlights the importance of measuring hormones during sleep, which has previously been impossible outside of a hospital. The ability to measure the dynamics of hormone secretion across the day and night in patients in their own home will not only improve our ability to accurately diagnose any abnormality in hormone secretion without the need for complex inpatient investigations, but the whole diagnostic procedure can be performed from primary care and linked to newly available diagnostic algorithms. This will not only provide good, personalised medicine, but will also allow the patient to follow their own hormone profiles during diagnosis and therapy and empower better patient: doctor discussions.”
Study in journal Science Translational Medicine: High-resolution daily profiles of tissue adrenal steroids by portable automated collection