Washington, Dec 13: Are you allergic to peanuts and worried there might be some in that cookie — don’t worry. Help is at hand in the shape of an unlikely source: your smartphone.
Researchers from Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), have developed a lightweight device called the iTube, which attached to a mobile phone can detect allergens in food samples.
The iTube attachment uses the mobile phone’s in-built camera, along with an accompanying smartphone app that runs a test with the same high level of sensitivity a lab would.
Food allergies are an emerging public concern, affecting as many as eight percent of young children and two percent of adults, according to a California statement.
Allergic reactions can be severe and even life-threatening. And while consumer-protection laws regulate the labelling of ingredients in pre-packaged foods, cross-contaminations can still occur during processing, manufacturing and transportation.
Although several products that detect allergens in foods are currently available, they are complex and require bulky equipment, making them ill-suited for use in public settings.
The iTube was developed to address these issues, said Aydogan Ozcan, associate professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering at California, who led the research team. Weighing less than two ounces, the attachment analyzes a test tube-based allergen-concentration test known as a colorimetric assay.
The kit digitally converts raw images from the mobile phone camera into concentration measurements detected in the food samples. And beyond just a “yes” or “no” answer as to whether allergens are present, the test can also quantify how much of an allergen is in a sample, in parts per million.
The iTube platform can test for a variety of allergens, including peanuts, almonds, eggs, gluten and hazelnuts, Ozcan said.