Tool could rapidly detect food allergies from a drop of blood

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Researchers at the University of Valencia’s Institute of Materials Science are developing a system based on photonic biosensors for the rapid diagnosis of food allergies.

Conducted in consortium with other European companies and institutions, the EU-funded POSITIVE project aims to make a low-cost instrument that performs effective allergy tests, potentially for hundreds of foods simultaneously and without risk to patients.

The new instrument — expected to perform an analysis on a single drop of blood in 15 minutes — is likely to benefit the estimated 15 million people in Europe who suffer from food allergies, a condition that can reduce quality of life and sometimes lead to death.

‘Currently, the most common allergy tests are expensive… and especially traumatic for children, as well as pose a risk of adverse reactions,’ said Daniel Hill, co-ordinator of the project and researcher at the University of Valencia. ‘Beyond the project, the idea is to be able to put a food allergy diagnostic instrument that is fast, effective and safe in the surgery of every paediatrician, so that they can test during the first few years of life.

‘The incorporated technology will on one hand allow the analysis from just one drop of blood, overcoming the frequently troublesome blood sampling issue, and on the other provide much greater information for a more precise diagnosis.’

The system reportedly combines different technology components that demonstrate multiple applications in different fields such as analysis of blood markers or filter laboratories.

The device is expected to be finished by February and will include elements such as a fluidically compatible porous membrane with biosensor functions, the first polymeric material developed especially for microfluidic devices, a new module for filtering blood, a more stable measuring instrument, and a disposable cartridge for the detection of biomolecules responsible for allergic reactions.

According to Hill, the instrument will be ready to begin clinical trials with patients from June, and testing will take place at the Hospital of the Universitaetsmedizin in Berlin.

‘According to our calculations, from the bioassays using non-human molecule samples, the final prototype will be able to detect up to 10 different food allergy measurements,’ said Hill in a statement. ‘The objective, once the project has ended, is to build a commercial instrument capable of detecting all food allergies at the same time, quickly, safely and at a very low cost.’

The other members of POSITIVE include the UK’s Farfield Group, Switzerland’s Centre Suisse d’Electronique et microtechnique (SA-CSEM), plus companies and institutions from France, Germany, Italy and Sweden.