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Anxiety Disorders Could be Detected by Saliva Test
April 6, 2016
According to anxiety.org, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting an estimated 40 million American adults, yet only one-third of adults and one-fifth of teenagers actually receive treatment. TenseSense, a startup out of the University of Illinois, is hoping that a simple and quick way for detection may have an impact on the amount of cases that get treatment.
Research from seniors in bioengineering in the lab of assistant professor Dipanjan Pan have created a device, which can serve as an instant indicator of elevated stress levels and thus allow a patient to know if they should seek treatment for anxiety.
“Mental illness affects so many people,” said Margaret Barbero, one of four co-founders of TenseSense. “It is an area of medicine that is not as characterized as say heart disease. We have found that to be an area of big growth and one that we can have a huge impact. We hope that it can help bring more attention to mental health in general.”
Team TenseSense (from left to right: Ayako Ohoka, Margaret Barbero, Aneysha Bhat, Karthik Balakrishnan), is working to develop a way to personalize prognostic procedures in mental health.
“The current method for detecting stress levels is a blood test, which costs in the neighborhood of $1500 and can take up to a week or process,” said co-founder Aneysha Bhat. “A psychiatric visit could be up to $300.”
TenseSense uses saliva for the test. Patients spit into a cup and dip an indicator strip into the sample. The strip is run through a small electronic device, which produces a reading correlating to the concentration of certain hormones and biochemicals related to stress. Similar to a home pregnancy test, the reading would serve as an indicator of stress levels, not a clinical diagnosis, but reliable enough to tell if the patient should seek further evaluation for an anxiety disorder.
“The electronic output would be converted into a number,” Barbero said. “We have developed an algorithm that can be compared to normal, which also takes into account the time of day.”
“This method is similar to the ‘lab-on-chip’ technology that exists for cancer detection,” said co-founder Karthik Balakrishnan, a senior in both chemical engineering and bioengineering. “We are taking that same idea and implementing it to mental illness. The difference is instead of needing a lab and training, all you need to know is how to manipulate the device. We want to break it down for the user so they have access to the same type of technology.”