Portable Device Tests for Food Allergens
A simple red light on the Nima Sensor can indicate if your restaurant meal will make you sick
When you’re buying prepared food, there’s now way of telling what’s exactly in your food. Nima can put all your anxiety to rest by letting you do a two-minute test that in extreme cases might save your life.
The Nima was designed to be easy to use and to carry around. Looking more like a make-up kit than a scientific tool, it executes a complex test without the fumbling around with chemicals.
The device is made up of two main parts, (1) a disposable cartridge fits into (2) a reusable sensor that performs that assay. A simple red light can indicate allergen presence.
For now, the Nima is able to test for gluten presence in the food. When a sample has 20 parts per million (ppm), there is a 99.5% chance Nima will test a positive. That accuracy increases when the food sample goes over FDA’s gluten-free label limit of 20 ppm.
Although DIY testing kits for allergens isn’t a new concept, they usually come in packages not discreet enough to carry around to where they might be needed, like restaurants. Unlike Nima, other testing kits are usually made up of test tubes and reagents in small bottles.
The technology works by putting all the chemistry and sample receptacle in a single-use disposable cartridge. Inside these cartridges are antibodies that 6SensorLabs, the company behind Nima, spent a year developing. These compounds bind only to gluten and trigger a chemical change which the reusable sensor then reads.
The science behind the Nima is based on the immunoassay, a test that takes advantage of the selectiveness of antibodies in bonding with big molecules which, in this case, is gluten. But gluten isn’t the end of it. Right now, the company is working on adapting the technology to test for peanuts and milk, both leading allergens in the United States.
While some do gluten-free diets to be “healthier,” others do so to stay alive. Celiac disease is a hereditary autoimmune reaction to gluten that destroys the functional parts of the small intestine.
The startup, founded by former MIT students, will be releasing prices for its devices and accepting pre-orders by the end of the year. They’re targeting getting into consumer hands by early next year.