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Surprising Science

Allergen Testing On The Go (Sort Of)

The iTube is a device that attaches to a smartphone and uses its camera and an accompanying app to perform a lab-quality food allergen test.

What’s the Latest Development?

In response to increasing public concern over food allergens, a team at UCLA has developed a device called the iTube, which attaches to a smartphone and uses its built-in camera and a specially-designed app to perform a colorimetric assay test on a prepared food sample. The test determines not only whether the sample contains allergens, but how much of each allergen is in the sample in parts per million. The team’s results, which involved testing of commercially-produced cookies for peanut traces, were recently published in the online version of the journal Lab on a Chip.

What’s the Big Idea?

Although portable allergen detection devices exist, they tend to be bulky and difficult to use. For the iTube, it takes about 20 minutes to prepare the food sample, but only a second for the app to run the test, according to the paper’s abstract. The size and speed of the device makes it ideal for parents, schools and restaurants, says lead researcher Aydogan Ozcan. In addition, the data collected by the device can serve a larger purpose: “Allergen-testing results of various food products, tagged with a time and location stamp, can be uploaded directly from cell phones to iTube servers to create a personalized testing archive, which could provide additional resources for allergic individuals around the world.”

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