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Allergen detection? There's a smartphone app for that

Local researchers have developed a mobile diagnosis to detect harmful amounts of allergens in food using a smartphone.
February 27, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
If you're allergic to peanuts and you're worried there might be some in food you want to eat, you'll soon be able to find out using your cellphone. Local researchers have developed a way to make a mobile diagnosis.

UCLA engineers have created a smartphone attachment called an iTube. The device can optically detect harmful amounts of allergens in a tiny amount of food using the phone's camera and an app.

"You can do this for peanuts or you can do this for other kinds of allergens," said Dr. Aydogan Ozcan, UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering.

Current methods to test for food allergens require bulky equipment, making it difficult to use in public settings. Now food analysis can be done out in the field or right in a doctor's office.

Researchers have also developed various attachments that can perform different functions, like an HIV screening.

"You can imagine your cellphone working like a very advanced microscope for looking at various different specimens," said Ozcan.

Other attachments measure the presence of E. coli in food, blood cell counts and blood-sugar levels. Cellphones are less expensive than a large lab and can give you immediate results.

"This platform is a very reliable means for looking at micro- and nano-scale things," said Ozcan.

So the next time you visit your doctor, don't be surprised if he or she pulls out a smartphone to make a diagnosis.

The engineering team at UCLA believes their cellphone test for food allergens could someday be used by parents, at schools, in restaurants and other public settings.