New 'Mobile Lab' App Detects Allergens in Food

Mixed nuts
Mixed nuts

There's an app for that ... food allergy? An innovative new device and app from UCLA researchers lets you scan and test your food before you eat it. It basically turns your smartphone into a mobile lab that can test your food for a number of common allergens, Mobile Health News reports. It can currently identify peanuts, almonds, eggs, gluten and hazelnuts.

The device, called the iTube, uses the iPhone camera to analyze food samples, searching them for allergens. The iTube attaches to the cellphone and uses an app that runs a test with the same high level of sensitivity you would get from a professional laboratory analysis, according to UCLA. In about 20 minutes, the device can return a result about whether certain food allergens are in a sample, as well as how much of the allergen exists, displaying the concentration in parts per million.

To test for allergens, food samples are ground up and mixed in a test tube with hot water and an extraction solvent; this mixture is allowed to set for several minutes. Then, following a step-by-step procedure, the sample is mixed with a series of other reactive testing liquids. When the sample is ready, it is measured optically using the iPhone camera and the app.

The UCLA team successfully tested the iTube using commercially available cookies, analyzing the samples to determine if they had a harmful amount of peanuts. Their research was recently published online in the peer-reviewed journal Lab on a Chip and will be featured in a forthcoming print issue of the journal.

"We envision that this cellphone-based allergen testing platform could be very valuable, especially for parents, as well as for schools, restaurants and other public settings," said Aydogan Ozcan, leader of the research team and a UCLA associate professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering.

According to UCLA, food allergies affect as many as 8 percent of young children and 2 percent of adults.

iTube could be available commercially in about 18 months, Ozcan said.

Now if only they could come up with an EpiPen app.


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