New device uses smartphone to diagnose adrenal gland diseases

Intermountain Medical Center's smartphone device--Courtesy of Intermountain Medical Center

Smartphone technology is picking up steam as a viable diagnostic tool, and a new device that uses the technology could help physicians diagnose and monitor adrenal gland disorders.

Scientists at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, UT, developed a product that uses smartphone technology to screen patients for adrenal gland conditions like Cushing's syndrome, and to identify adrenal insufficiency, monitor cortisol replacement and changes in adrenal function. Adrenal gland disorders are often difficult to diagnose, and measuring cortisol, or the "stress hormone," is costly and complicated, Dr. Joel Ehrenkranz, director of diabetes and endocrinology at Intermountain Medical Center and lead researcher on the project, said in a statement.

The researchers' new tool includes a simple saliva test that monitors cortisol levels, and a smartphone application that quantifies and delivers the results in five minutes without lab processing. The diagnostic is similar in design to a home pregnancy test or urine sample drug tests, and is like having an endocrine specialist in your phone, Ehrenkranz said. Ehrenkranz and his team will present their findings at the 16th International Congress of Endocrinology in Chicago on Tuesday.

The test joins a bevy of smartphone products under development for disease monitoring. Earlier this month, the FDA approved iHealth Align, the world's smallest blood glucose monitor to track blood sugar on a mobile device. Blood is placed on a testing strip that is inserted into a tiny, quarter-sized plug that fits directly into a smartphone. The device then displays and stores readings through an accompanying app.

Big-name companies are also hard at work on healthcare monitoring devices that integrate smartphone technology. In January, Apple ($AAPL) won a patent for an iPhone heart monitor that includes an embedded ECG sensor that measures a patient's heartbeat. The sensors could also be used to gauge a user's mood, or perform an operation based on the identity of the user, the company said in its patent filing. 

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