Portable food allergen test designed to check 'free-from' meals

June 22, 2017 by Sarah Cox, Brunel University London, Brunel University
Credit: Brunel University

A portable food allergen testing device and app has been designed by a Brunel University London student, with the potential to go to market at a fraction of the cost of comparable products.

Created by BSc Product Design Engineering student Imogen Adams, 'Ally' is a pocket-sized, lightweight device designed to ease anxiety for allergy sufferers during meals out through a quick and easy test for different food allergens.

Ally users begin by crushing a small food sample and a few drops of water inside a small flexible silicone pod. They dip in a test strip and then insert the strip into a slot in the Ally – a Bluetooth enabled doughnut-sized electronic device inside a hard plastic casing.

When the accompanying app is opened on a mobile phone, and the button in the middle of the 'doughnut' is pressed, it takes 60 seconds for the app to process the test.

Feedback on the food's allergen status appears on the app, while the Ally device also signals a positive or negative result with a quick vibration – useful for anyone who would prefer not to appear rude by checking their phone at the dining table!

Within the app you can log your results, share them within an online community, and leave reviews about how 'allergy friendly' local restaurants are.

The strips used to test food samples are a modified glucose test strip containing lactase enzyme on half the strip. If lactose is present within a sample the glucose strip will change colour, with a greater colour change indicating more lactose present. This information is then read by a colour sensor in the electronic device.

A preferred type of , which was too expensive to use during the product's development stage but could be used if Ally were to go to market, is ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) technology, a sensitive method in which to measure the concentration of antigen (the molecule capable of inducing an immune response in a person) in a sample.

This method is commonly used in pregnancy testing, when the urine is checked for the presence of a particular hormone. With the Ally, the same theory could be used to check for a protein specific to the allergen being targeted.

Imogen estimates that Ally could be mass produced for little more than £30 per unit, with each test costing the user less than 20p. A comparable product designed to test for gluten is currently on sale in the US for £210 with tests costing around £5 a time.

Imogen chose to trial her design as a for lactose, as one of the most common food intolerances (with milk one of the top eight food allergies). Many people develop lactose intolerance between the ages of 20-40 and it is particularly prevalent in people of Asian and Afro-Caribbean origin.

She is now in the process of developing testing for different allergens, and hopes to also develop a 'vegetarian checker' for traces of meat or fish - which was the original inspiration for the project.

"As a vegetarian travelling abroad last summer I wanted a way of making sure the food I was eating was truly vegetarian," she says. "During research into a analysis device I decided to focus on allergies first, as they can be life threatening."

Imogen's product was the only student project named runner-up in this year's AXA PP Health Tech and You Award in the Future category among almost 50 entries, submitted largely by established companies.

She received funding from the James Dyson Foundation in January this year, and her prototype was recently exhibited in London's Design Museum and at Brunel's annual student design showcase, Made in Brunel. It will also be exhibited in early July as part of the New Designers showcase in London.

Explore further: Study offers hard data on food allergies

Related Stories

Study offers hard data on food allergies

May 31, 2017
Anecdotal evidence of food allergies abounds, but just how common are these allergies and intolerances? In a new study, investigators from Brigham and Women's Hospital combed through medical records from more than 2.7 million ...

Test strip able to identify blood type in less than a minute

March 16, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers at Third Military Medical University in China has developed a test strip that can be used to identify a person's blood type in less than a minute. In their paper published in the journal ...

FDA warns diabetics against use of secondhand test strips

June 21, 2017
(HealthDay)—Millions of Americans with diabetes use glucose meters and test strips to monitor their blood sugar, but affording those supplies can be a challenge.

French start-up nibbles Halal food market with pork test

November 5, 2014
A French start-up is hoping to take a slice of the multi-billion Halal food market with a device allowing diners to find out within minutes whether a dish contains pork.

New app to improve food allergy testing

June 26, 2014
Scientists from The University of Manchester have teamed up with global food-safety diagnostic company Romer Labs UK Ltd to create a new tool which will help improve the lives of people suffering with food allergies.

Moms and dads of kids with food allergies think they're allergic too

October 12, 2016
When testing for food allergies, allergists often ask about family history. If your parents have food allergies, the chances are higher that you too will have them. Problem is, not everyone who reports a food allergy actually ...

Recommended for you

Novel genomic tools provide new insight into human immune system

January 19, 2018
When the body is under attack from pathogens, the immune system marshals a diverse collection of immune cells to work together in a tightly orchestrated process and defend the host against the intruders. For many decades, ...

Genomics reveals key macrophages' involvement in systemic sclerosis

January 18, 2018
A new international study has made an important discovery about the key role of macrophages, a type of immune cell, in systemic sclerosis (SSc), a chronic autoimmune disease which currently has no cure.

First vaccine developed against grass pollen allergy

January 18, 2018
Around 400 million people worldwide suffer in some form or other from a grass pollen allergy (rhinitis), with the usual symptoms of runny nose, cough and severe breathing problems. In collaboration with the Viennese firm ...

Researchers discover key driver of atopic dermatitis

January 17, 2018
Severe eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that is driven by an allergic reaction. In their latest study, researchers at La Jolla Institute reveal an important player that promotes ...

Who might benefit from immunotherapy? New study suggests possible marker

January 16, 2018
While immunotherapy has made a big impact on cancer treatment, the fact remains that only about a quarter of patients respond to these treatments.

Researchers identify new way to unmask melanoma cells to the immune system

January 16, 2018
system, which enables these deadly skin cancers to grow and spread.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.