Ask your smart phone to detect food allergens in your food.

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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.

 

Women who snack on nuts during pregnancy are less likely to have children with asthma and allergies, according to Danish research.

After studying more than 60,000 mothers and children, the researchers found that children born to mothers who eat nuts in pregnancy were 25 percent less likely to suffer asthma when they were 18 months old and 34 percent less likely to suffer asthma at seven years, compared with mothers who didn’t eat nuts.

The children of mothers who ate tree nuts (almonds, brazils, cashews, hazelnuts) were also 20 percent less likely to have other allergies.

In the past, pregnant women were told to avoid nuts because health authorities believed they could increase an unborn child’s risk of allergy. Asthma in childhood is often caused by allergies.

But in recent years the advice has changed, with experts believing there is no clear evidence that nut consumption during pregnancy and breastfeeding has any impact on a child developing an allergy.

This results of the study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, suggest eating nuts could have a protective effect on babies.

“We found that maternal peanut and tree nut intake one or more times per week during pregnancy decreases the risk of allergic disease in childhood. These results do not support avoidance of nuts during pregnancy,” study author Ekaterina Maslova, from Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen, wrote in the report.

Professor Katie Allen, a paediatric gastroenterologist and allergist at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, told MSN NZ the study is good news for mothers.

“This is highly relevant data for mothers with decisions about what they do when they are pregnant,” she said.

“The guidelines in the past have been based on a lack of evidence. This is really good, robust evidence that it’s safe to eat peanuts during pregnancy – you won’t increase your child’s risk of peanut allergy.”

But Professor Allen said more studies are needed to confirm whether eating peanuts and tree nuts in pregnancy can have a protective effect.

“What we need is randomised control trials where we use something to try to prevent something happening,” she said.

This comes after recent research from the Australian National University last month found children who are solely fed breast milk in the first six months of their life are more likely to develop a nut allergy than children who were exposed to other foods and fluids.

“Our results contribute to the argument that breast feeding alone does not appear to be protective against nut allergy in children –– it may, in fact, be causative of allergy,” Marjan Kljakovic, professor of General Practice at the ANU Medical School, said in a media release.

“Over time, health authorities’ recommendations for infant feeding habits have changed, recommending complementary foods such as solids and formula be introduced later in life. Despite breast feeding being recommended as the sole source of nutrition in the first six months of life, an increasing number of studies have implicated breast feeding as a cause of the increasing trend in nut allergy.”