Measuring earwax could help reveal how stressed or depressed someone is by providing an easy way to monitor the level of cortisol in the body, researchers claim.
Experts from UCL and King's College London discovered that cortisol in earwax was relatively stable and so they created a new device that could 'take a sample and test it quickly, cheaply and effectively'.
The new device can be used at home without clinical supervision, allowing for medical check-ups while maintaining social distancing due to Covid-19.
It may also have the potential to measure glucose or Covid-19 antibodies that accumulate in earwax, according to lead author Dr Andres Herane-Vives.
Measuring earwax could help reveal how stressed or depressed someone is by providing an easy way to monitor the level of cortisol in the body, researchers claim. Stock image
Cortisol has been considered as a possible biomarker for depression, according to the research team, but it is difficult to measure accurately as levels fluctuate.
The most common technique is to use hair samples, but they suffer from short-term cortisol fluctuations and 'not everyone has enough hair for a reliable sample'.
'It is also more time-consuming and expensive to analyse hair samples, compared to earwax, but until now there has not been a reliable and non-stressful method to sample earwax,' the team behind the new device explained.
Dr Herane-Vives said a sample of cortisol might not be an accurate reflection of a person's chronic cortisol levels due to fluctuations.
'Moreover, sampling methods themselves can induce stress and influence the results,' the lead researcher from UCL and Kings explained.
'But cortisol levels in earwax appear to be more stable, and with our new device, it's easy to take a sample and get it tested quickly, cheaply and effectively.'
Dr Herane-Vives was inspired by another natural wax, honeycomb from bees, as it is known to be well-preserved and resistant to bacterial contamination.
Earwax has similar properties, making it well suited for home sampling, as samples can be sent to a lab by post without much risk of contamination.
The novel earwax self-sampling device is similar to a cotton swab, but with a brake that stops the swab from going too far into the ear and causing damage.
The tip is covered with a sponge of organic material, with a solution that has been tested to be the most effective and reliable at taking samples.
Cortisol has been considered as a possible biomarker for depression, according to the research team, but it is difficult to measure accurately as levels fluctuate. Stock image
In their pilot study, Dr Herane-Vives and a team of researchers from the UK, Chile and Germany brought in 37 study participants to test different sampling techniques.
Earwax usually falls out on its own but, in some cases, it can