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Mobile device enables easier food allergen testing

By Rod Addy , 13-Dec-2012

A simpler way to detect allergens in food samples has been devised with the launch of a new device for mobile phones developed by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Researchers from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have developed a lightweight device called the iTube, which attaches to a common mobile phone to detect the allergens.

The innovation improves on previous testing kits, which the scientists claim are too complex and bulky, and in theory could be used by consumers, claim the scientists.

In addition, results could be uploaded to a database and, coupled with geographic information, could inform future food-related policies — for example in restaurants, food production and for consumer protection, the researchers said.

Their research paper, 'A personalized food allergen testing platform on a cellphone' , is to be published in the journal Lab on a Chip.

Colorimetric assay

However, the testing process still requires a certain level of detail. The attachment, which weighs less than two ounces, analyses 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.

The mixture is allowed to set for several minutes. Then the prepared sample is mixed with a series of other reactive testing liquids. The entire preparation takes roughly 20 minutes.

Allergen concentration

When the sample is ready, it is measured optically for allergen concentration through the iTube platform, using the phone’s camera and a smart application running on the phone.

The kit digitally converts raw images from the mobile phone camera into concentration measurements detected in the samples. Beyond just a positive or negative result, the test can also quantify how much of an allergen is in a sample, in parts per million.

The iTube platform could test for a variety of allergens, including nuts, eggs and gluten, said Aydogan Ozcan, leader of the research team and a UCLA associate professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering.

"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.

Priceless

"Once successfully deployed in these settings, the big amount of data … that this platform will continuously generate would indeed be priceless for consumers, food manufacturers, policymakers and researchers, among others."

Test results, tagged with a time and location stamp, could be uploaded directly from mobile phones to iTube servers to create a personalized testing archive. This could then provide additional resources for allergic individuals around the world.

A statistical allergy database, coupled with geographic information, could be useful for future food-related policies — for example in restaurants, food production and for consumer protection, the researchers said.

Source: ‘A personalized food allergen testing platform on a cellphone’, Lab on a Chip, Accepted Manuscript, DOI: 10.1039/C2LC41152K .

Authors: Ahmet Coskun, Justin Wong, Delaram Khodadadi, Richie Nagi, Andrew Tey and Aydogan Ozcan.

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