Close to 15 million people suffer from food allergies, and those numbers are rising. While 90 percent of food-related allergens come from milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat, most of them are treatable if not curable. Gluten allergies, however, lack any effective counteractive methods, and affect around three million Americans. A gluten allergy is a cumbersome condition that can make something that’s supposed to be enjoyable like a night out to dinner, a tedious ordeal. A new device could make matters easier for people with this condition known as Nima, which is a portable allergy detector that scans for the presence of gluten in food.
Invented by MIT graduate Shireen Yates, Nima is made of two parts – a one-time use capsule and triangle-shaped base. The device only requires a pea-sized sample of food from any dish to test for gluten traces. Nima can test for gluten in foods like soups, dressing, cereal, chips, and noodles, but can’t be used on non-food items or gluten content in hydrolyzed and fermented foods like soy sauce. The food sample is placed in the one-time capsule and inserted into the base. Using an array of sensors that scan for proteins found in wheat to detect the presence of gluten, it takes Nima about 2-4 minutes to determine if any traces are present in food samples. The device will light up with a green smiley face if no gluten is present, display a wheat symbol with the words “low gluten” if there are small traces, or the same symbol with the words “gluten found” is the sample contains more than a slight trace.
Nima has a lot of innovative features that separate it from conventional food allergen detectors on the market. Not only does it take Nima 2-4 minutes to complete a task that lab kits need up to ten steps to accomplish, but the device can be used to test food from any dish, unlike generic food-allergen products that only test a specific food manufacturer and their own product lines. Currently working to expand identifying other food allergies like milk and peanuts, Nima is expected to launch a sensor to help detect peanut allergens this fall. The device was launched at the beginning of this year, with starter kits being sold on retail for $279. In addition to the sensor device, packs also come with three single-use test capsules, a charging cable, and carrying pouch. Testing capsules can also be purchased for $60-$120.
Granted the research and development of Nima is a big step forward in identifying and preventing allergy-related illnesses, it should be known that Nima isn’t 100 percent effective, and isn’t regulated by government health agencies. One useful tool Nima has to potentially offset their non-guarantee is their Bluetooth mobile app, where users can document their findings and raise awareness about what restaurants and stores other people should and shouldn’t go to in their surrounding area. This nifty feature can help make grocery shopping and dinner outings easier for people with the gluten allergy to plan and attend, especially for people not from the area, shopping or eating somewhere they’re visiting for the first time.
Filed Under: M2M (machine to machine)