Researchers develop cell phone-based allergen testing solution

Those with food allergies can now do spot checks using their cell phones to detect the possible presence of allergens in food they are about to eat, thanks to a new device developed by researchers at UCLA. The lightweight device--the iTube--attaches to a cell phone's built-in camera and runs an app that performs a laboratory-grade test, according to a recent announcement from the school.

Weighing less than two ounces, the main advantage of the iTube is its small size in comparison to more complex and bulky testing equipment that isn't practical for use in public. Acting as a personalized food allergen testing platform, iTube takes images and automatically analyzes allergen concentrations in a test tube-based analysis known as a colorimetric assay.

A cell phone's camera is where test and control tubes containing food samples are inserted and are vertically illuminated by two separate light-emitting-diodes. The images of the sample and control tubes are digitally processed by an app which detects and quantifies the allergen contamination in the food.

The iTube platform is able test for a variety of allergens, including peanuts, almonds, eggs, gluten and hazelnuts. UCLA researchers evaluated the performance of the iTube using different types of commercially available cookies, where the existence of peanuts was accurately quantified. Their research was recently published online in the peer-reviewed journal Lab on a Chip.

"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," said Aydogan Ozcan, leader of the research team and a UCLA associate professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering.

For those looking to avoid restaurants that might serve foods with allergens, a smartphone app called AllergyEats, keeps track of allergenic foods to help patients find restaurants that are "allergy-friendly" or serve meals for allergic diners. In addition, the app provides valuable, peer-based ratings and feedback about how well (or poorly) restaurants accommodate food-allergic customers.

To learn more:
- read the UCLA announcement
- download the journal article