Researchers have developed a new device – called iTube – which is able to detect food allergens in food samples. This lightweight attachment to smart phones is recently the lighter, merely two ounces (less than 60 g), portable allergen testing device. The attachment analyzes the allergen concentration levels. The test is also known as colorimetric assay. The iTube platform can test for a variety of allergens, including peanuts, almonds, gluten, eggs, hazelnuts.
Food allergies affect 8 percent of children and 2 percent of adults. Food allergy can be severe, even life-threatening (anaphylaxis). While laws regulate the labeling of ingredients in packaged foods, cross-contamination can still cause severe allergic reactions. Cross-contamination can occur during processing, manufacturing, and transportation. It is especially difficult to detect the presence of a special allergens in foods at dinner parties or in restaurants.
There are already allergy testing devices on the market but they are complex, bulky equipments, impractical for public settings.
iTube holds a lot of promises for future applications, according to the researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Henry Samuely School of Engineering and Applied Science.
How does iTube work?
iTube along with a smartphone application that runs the test, uses the cell phone’s built-in camera to convert images into concentration measurements detected in food samples. The test demonstrates the amount of the allergens with the same high level of sensitivity a laboratory would. The results show exactly how many parts per million allergens from e.g. eggs, peanuts, gluten, nuts are in the sample. The test however takes a little while: about 20 minutes to get the results, and the food requires some preparation. The food sample initially needs to be ground up and mixed with hot water and a solvent. After the sample has set for a few minutes, it is mixed in a step-by-step procedure with a series of reactive testing liquids. After about this 20 minute preparation the sample is ready to be measured for allergen concentration through the cell phone’s camera and iTube app. The iTube not only shows whether an allergen is present in the sample but also gives the concentration in parts per million of the allergen.
The UCLA team successfully tested the iTube on different packages of cookies. The results determined if they had any harmful amounts of peanuts in the sample. Their research was recently published online in the peer-reviewed journal Lab on a Chip.
“We envision that this cell phone-based allergen testing platform could be very valuable, especially for parents, as well as for schools, restaurants, and other public settings,” says Aydogan Ozcan, leader of the research team and a UCLA associate professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering.
The results of the tests can be tagged with time and location as well as can be uploaded directly from the smart phone to the iTube server which could provide information for other allergy-sufferers around the world. A statistical database of different allergies linked to geographic areas could be useful for future determination of food-related polices researchers said.
Another team of researchers from Purde University have also processed a new application for travelers suffering from allergies to obtain instant (0.09 seconds) allergen results from food samples without any Internet connection or server. This device is not available yet.