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Using your cell phone to test for food allergens

Ingredient labels often come with a disclaimer saying the "product may contain nuts" or that it was "processed in a plant that uses peanuts or soy in other products." If you suffer from a food allergy, grocery shopping and eating out can be stressful. Now, though, UCLA engineers have created a device to make it easier to detect allergens.

A release describes how the iTube, which attaches to a cell phone, works:

Weighing less than two ounces, the attachment analyzes a test tube–based allergen-concentration test known as a colorimetric assay.

To test for allergens, food samples are initially 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 prepared sample is mixed with a series of other reactive testing liquids. The entire preparation takes roughly 20 minutes. When the sample is ready, it is measured optically for allergen concentration through the iTube platform, using the cell phone's camera and a smart application running on the phone.

The kit digitally converts raw images from the cell-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, according to engineer Aydogan Ozcan, PhD.

The prevalence of food allergies seems to be on the rise, and its developers think  iTube could someday help prevent the number of emergency room visits or spare people having to get poked by an EpiPen after accidentally eating something with peanuts. "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," Ozcan said in the release.

Previously: Student inventors create device to help reduce anemia in the developing worldDiagnosing ear infections using your iPhone? Not so far-fetchedHelping kids cope with allergies,  Peanut bans: An  overreaction to food allergies?What’s causing all those food allergies?Experts debate the “squishy science” of food allergies and Stanford study shows lack of criteria for diagnosing food allergies
Photo courtesy of the UCLA Henrey Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science

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