Brunel University London student develops portable food allergen testing device


A student from Brunel University London, UK, has created a low-cost, portable food allergen testing device and app called Ally.

The lightweight pocket-sized device has been created by product design engineering student Imogen Adams.

This device will help allergy sufferers to carry out a quick and easy test for different food allergens.

In order to test the food, Ally users have to first crush a small food sample and then add a few drops of water inside a small flexible silicone pod.

The users need to dip the test strip and then insert it into a slot in the device, which is a bluetooth-enabled, doughnut-sized electronic device inside a plastic casing.

"The lightweight pocket-sized device has been created by product design engineering student Imogen Adams."

The accompanying app when opened on a mobile phone takes one minute to process the test.

The strips to test food samples are a modified glucose test strip. Half the strip contains lactase enzyme.

If lactose is present within a sample, the glucose strip changes colour. This information is then read by a colour sensor in the electronic device.

Although ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) technology is the preferred type of test strip, it was expensive to use during the product’s development stage. However, this strip can be used if Ally launches in the market.

ELISA helps to measure the antigen concentration in a sample.

Imogen estimates that Ally could be produced in bulk for just over £30 a unit, with each test costing the user less than 20p.

A comparable product to test for gluten in the US currently costs £210, with each test costing the user around £5.

Imogen trialled her test device for lactose, as people develop lactose intolerance between the ages of 20-40. This problem is particularly found in people of Asian and Afro-Caribbean origin.

She is currently in the process of developing test methods for different allergens and expects to develop a ‘vegetarian checker’ to find out if there are traces of meat or fish.


Image: A portable food allergen testing device. Photo: courtesy of Brunel University London.