Researchers in Canada have developed a handheld device to detect food allergens in 20 minutes. The process is designed to be much quicker than conventional food allergen testing and does not require food samples to be transferred to a lab for analysis.
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Suresh Neethirajan, PhD, PEng, of the BioNano Laboratory at the University of Guelph in Ontario, says that he and his colleagues have applied for a patent and that they anticipate the device will be ready for commercialization in about 14 to 18 months.
The biosensor has the potential to be used by restaurant chefs and servers and by consumers and food safety inspectors, Dr. Neethirajan says. “In addition to being handheld, the module we have developed can also be adopted for central food testing laboratory services instrumentation, all with the goal of bringing down the time to results.”
Consumers who use the device can “test for themselves what they put inside their system before consuming the food. The end result will significantly reduce hospitalizations and the costs associated with treating food allergies,” he says.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI) lists peanut allergies as one of the most common food allergies among children in the U.S. The rate of peanut allergies in children more than tripled between 1997 and 2008. According to ACAAI, most symptoms of wheat allergy are mild, but they can be severe and fatal.
The food allergen biosensor can detect the presence of two food allergens: gluten and Ara h 1, which is associated with peanuts. The biosensor “compared favorably to commercial ELISA kits for wheat gluten and Arah h 1 in food samples,” the researchers reported in the June 7 issue of Biosensors.
Detecting Ara h 1 requires a small amount of the suspected food to be liquefied in a suspension so that it can be injected using a filter syringe into a silicon-based plate, or chip, of microcapillaries that Dr. Neethirajan and colleagues developed. As the sample passes through tiny tubes of the microfluidic chip using capillary action, it travels through a beam of light from an LED source that is monitored by a specialized camera developed by the scientists.
The image captures Ara h 1 protein particles that fluoresce when they come in contact with the chemical properties of the suspension. Currently, the camera records and sends data to a computer to be analyzed and deciphered. An app has been developed and a fully functional validated version will be available in four months so that results will be available using a smartphone, says Dr. Neethirajan.