We must all keep a check on our stress levels - according to university experts

Published: 7 November 2007 at 11:33

Psychologists including the ‘Stress Professor’ recommend taking the new saliva test to find out how much we are affected.

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Anglia Ruskin University has teamed up with Stratech Scientific, based in Newmarket, to promote a newly-available non-invasive saliva testing kit which can help research professionals determine Hormone levels in an attempt to find out how stressed we are in today’s increasingly harder and faster-moving world.

The Salivary Assay kits, provide an alternative to blood testing which has been the conventional method of assessing stress levels. They are manufactured by a US based company Salimetrics and are now available for delivery to hospitals, universities and clinics across Europe.

They have been recommended by Professor Angela Clow, Professor of Psychophysiology at the University of Westminster in London, who is also known as the ‘Stress Professor’ - a role which she takes on with great gusto in the new BBC TV series The Stress Test. The series offers advice to six different people who are each plagued by stress, but for very different reasons.

Anglia Ruskin University Senior Psychology Lecturer, Dr Matt Bristow explains:

“We live in an increasingly stressful world – from the daily commute to work, challenging work environments, through to wars and natural disasters. There is a need to understand how the impact of stress we experience in everyday life impacts on our health and well-being.   Traditionally such research has been difficult as it often required immune or hormonal analysis of blood samples.  Aside from the invasive nature of blood collection, researchers also needed the expertise and equipment to analyse the samples.”

“The assay service from Stratest allows researchers to collect saliva samples rather than blood samples for many of the most important biomarkers. The saliva samples are then collected by Stratest, analysed and the results emailed back to the researchers. By advising on collection, organising transport and analysis of the saliva samples Stratest allows researchers to do what they are best at – doing good research.”

“Saliva offers a number of advantages for the researcher. It is easy to collect – participants can even collect their own saliva – and is considerably safer to handle and store than blood samples. The ease of saliva collection allows researchers to use more sophisticated designs – for example collecting saliva samples every 20 minutes or every morning and evening for a number of days, collecting samples away from the laboratory. Such designs would be difficult or even impossible with traditional blood sampling.”

The following hormones can be assayed using the Salimetrics technology: Cortisol, Alpha Amylase, DHEA, Secretory IgA, Cotinine (smoking cessation), Testosterone, Progesterone, Estradiol, Estriol and Blood Contamination. IL-6 and Melatonin will be added shortly.

Professor Clow comments:

“As psychophysiologists we investigate the way emotion (typically negative or positive) affects the bodily functions and, in the long run, health.  Over the last decade the Psychophysiology and Stress Research Group (PSRG) at the University of Westminster has explored methodologically sound ways of investigating these sorts of questions by measurement of Cortisol concentrations in saliva. The hormone Cortisol is a key mediator of the link between the mind and body and performs an important role in regulating bodily systems.”

“The area of psychophysiology has advanced in leaps and bounds since the introduction of these salivary assay systems and they will facilitate a revolution in our understanding of how the mind and body interact.”

Sue Hallett, MD of Stratech adds:

“The assay kits that Stratech supplies have been specifically designed for salivary samples by Salimetrics, a world leader in this technology and a spin off from Penn State University.”

“Collecting saliva is painless and stress free for the participant and is particularly useful when testing young or elderly subjects. In addition, salivary testing requires fewer human resources to collect a sample; results are readily comparable to blood and serum and given the ease of collection are more amenable to repeated sampling.”

“Stratech Scientific Ltd has been supplying salivary assay kits from Salimetrics for over two years and recognized the need to offer a complete salivary testing service.”

“We now can supply any customer with all the components required to collect samples including the special packaging required to transport them to the laboratory.”

“We are working with Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge which has a specially equipped robotic system for analysing the samples and returning the data electronically to the customer.”

“The association with Anglia Ruskin has given Stratech the opportunity to offer this comprehensive testing service and I foresee that testing salivary biomarkers will become a routine research tool in the near future.”

Anglia Ruskin University’s Department of Psychology has a state of the   art laboratory that includes the £150,000 robotic sample analyser which will allow for the rapid testing of the saliva samples collected by the new kits. The main laboratory contains equipment to allow the safe handling and disposal of saliva samples, for example autoclaves and Class II containment cabinets. 

Maintaining the integrity of unique saliva is extremely important and      the laboratory uses multiple ultra low freezers (-80C) to ensure optimal storage of the saliva. The ultra-low freezers are monitored all-day with on-line data loggers and wireless alarms systems. If the lights go out the freezers can be maintained at ultra-low temperatures by injection of liquid C02 or by switching to backup generators.

The new saliva testing kit has been used in the sports science field testing players from the legendary rugby-playing All Blacks and a number of leading Premiership football teams. 

The initial patient benefit is that Salivary Testing is non-invasive, does not require a nurse or indeed a hospital visit as the sample of saliva can be delivered to a collection device and then posted to a laboratory. This is of particular benefit when working with paediatric or geriatric patients.

For further information visit www.anglia.ac.uk, www.stratech.co.uk or www.stratest.com