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$40 Keychain detector could catch food allergens before it’s too late

 

Eating in a restaurant can be a big fun unless you or your kids are allergic to some food. For those, a restaurant outing can be a fraught experience.

Even when care is taken, meals can accidentally become cross-contaminated with an affected food which triggers a reaction.

A new $40 portable allergen-detection device developed at Harvard Medical School may soon let you test food for common allergens instead of using your body to tell you whats in it.

The researchers called it Integrated Exogenous Antigen Testing, or iEAT. The device that could help prevent trips to the emergency room. The researchers published journal ACS Nano.

Most people with food allergies are avoiding food like eggs, nuts, and fish that cause the reaction. Body response can range from a mild rash to life-threatening anaphylaxis, an acute allergic response to an antigen to which the body has become hypersensitive.

But avoidance isn’t always possible. Food can be mislabeled or cross-contaminated. Conventional methods to detect these hidden triggers either require bulky laboratory equipment or are slow and don’t pick up on low concentrations. Ralph Weissleder, Hakho Lee and colleagues wanted to make a more practical, consumer-friendly option.

First, you put a small piece of food on the device, which does the necessary chemical deconstruction. Then you plug it into the iEAT device itself, which is small and light enough to fit on a keychain, and contains the electronics needful to analyze the food sample.

In less than 10 minutes the results appear on your smartphone. The information includes what allergens are in the food and how much.
The prototype could detect five allergens: wheat, peanuts, hazelnuts, milk and egg whites, at levels even lower than the gold standard laboratory assay.

Testing on samples of items from restaurants showed some allergens in unexpected dishes and beverages — for example, gluten in salad and an egg protein in beer.

Although the prototype was designed to sense five allergens, the researchers say the device could be expanded to test for additional compounds, including other allergens and non-food contaminants such as pesticides.

Right now the device is set up to detect peanuts, hazelnuts, wheat, milk, and eggs, but it could easily be configured to find other things: shellfish, pesticides and so on. The researchers tested it on a few restaurant items themselves and found gluten in a “gluten-free” salad, and egg protein in beer (gross).

The whole thing supposedly costs $40, though of course, the antigen extraction devices are where they get you — hopefully, you’ll be able to buy in bulk. Whatever the case, it’s better than having your throat close up or developing some horrible rash.

You can find two other detective devices. Nima, on sale for $199 which only does gluten and each test costing around $6.5 a time. Ally is a lactose detective in its prototype phase. In mass production, the price will be $40, with each test costing the user 26 cents.

 

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