UCLA's iTube attachment can detect allergens in food samples
Around 1-2% of the UK population have a peanut allergy, and while for most the symptoms of a reaction will include a rash, itching, diarrhoea or vomiting, for some the body’s response is more drastic – if a person with allergy goes into anaphylactic shock, where the airway constricts and blood pressure drops, it could prove fatal.
Now researchers have come up with a tool that could help – an attachment for your mobile phone.
Some devices already exist to detect allergens in food but they’re unwieldy, so they’re far from ideal when eating out, or at school/university, or at a special event for example – which is often when people need this kind of equipment the most.
So researchers from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science set about designing a more compact version. They’ve named their attachment the ‘iTube’ and it can be used with a mobile phone with a camera, along with an app.
To use the device, users take a food sample, grind it up and mix it with hot water and an extraction solvent, then leave it for several minutes. Further preparation involves mixing in other liquids, with the whole procedure taking a total of roughly 20 minutes.
Then the iTube is used via the mobile phone’s camera to detect any concentrations of allergens, giving a yes or no answer, and even providing how much of an allergen is present in the food. It can be used for peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, eggs, and gluten.
While spending 20 minutes doing this might seem like a lot of work, for those who have serious allergies it could prove life-saving.
The results that anyone receives via this method can also be uploaded online and the researchers hope that when the device becomes readily available, many users will add to this database, which will also be geographical, thereby helping others who also have allergies avoid certain foods or restaurants that might trigger an allergic reaction.
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