Health & Wellbeing

Sensor detects whether meals are really gluten-free

Sensor detects whether meals a...
Developed by an MIT spinout company, the Nima sensor can pick out tiny amounts of gluten in just a few minutes
Developed by an MIT spinout company, the Nima sensor can pick out tiny amounts of gluten in just a few minutes
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Developed by an MIT spinout company, the Nima sensor can pick out tiny amounts of gluten in just a few minutes
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Developed by an MIT spinout company, the Nima sensor can pick out tiny amounts of gluten in just a few minutes

Restaurant menus usually include at least one or two gluten free meal options, but it's possible for ingredients to pick up tiny amounts of the protein during production or cooking. For those that suffer from conditions such as celiac disease, even small traces could cause big health problems. A new device is aiming to make life a little easier for those people, providing a quick and easy method for testing that meals really are 100 percent gluten free in just a few minutes.

The idea of a device that can quickly check food for a particular ingredient isn't new. In the past, we've seen attachments designed to turn smartphones into allergen sensors, and even a handheld sensor that uses a low-powered laser to pick out what's in food.

The new device, known as the Nima, is made by an MIT spinout of the same name. It's just 3 in (7.6 cm) tall and features a triangular design. It makes use of small disposable capsule, into which the user places a pea-sized sample of food or drink, before sliding it into the device. Two to three minutes later, the display will indicate whether any gluten is present.

Considering that an estimated three million people have celiac disease in the US alone, such a device could have a pretty big audience. The autoimmune disorder can lead to intestinal damage, meaning that sufferers have to be constantly aware of what they're eating.

The sensor is able to pick out gluten in quantities of 20 parts per million, and up. To do so, it makes use of a biochemical test called an immunoassay, which uses antibodies sensitive to gluten. When gluten molecules are present, the antibodies bond with them, causing a change in color. An optical reader then picks up the change, and a "gluten found" message is displayed to the user.

The system also lets users keep track of their results, each of which is automatically synced with the Nima smartphone app. Opening up the app, users can input information about what they ate, and entries can be seen by other Nima users, giving them tips on where to go for truly gluten-free meals.

For Nima, the gluten sensor is just the beginning, with plans to release two similar devices in 2017, designed to detect peanuts and dairy. The company is also keen to get restaurants using the gluten sensor to validate their gluten-free menu items. A couple of establishments in San Francisco are already trying out the tech.

"Right now, we don't know what's in our food, whether it is allergens, pesticides, or other harmful chemicals," said Nima's Scott Sundvor. "There's not a good way to get that data. We want to give people the ability to understand their food better and how it affects their health."

Source: MIT

3 comments
Wolf0579
First of all, I keep reading that only 1 out of 100,000 people is allergic to gluten. That should have been in the first sentence. Articles like this only fuel the misunderstanding that the public has about matters scientific. As a result, fitness oriented people now think gluten is something to be avoided. It's not. I am seeing more and more supposedly "scientific" articles being written by people who clearly have little to no understanding of science.
glowball415
(@wolf0579) In case you didn't notice, the above article links to a report by the University of Chicago's Celiac Disease Center where people can get all the facts and figures they could possibly want to see. If the public wants the truth, they can read the background there. In fact, they should. Might open some folks eyes. I am pleased that gizmag is featuring this little gadget, because if it works, I am one of the people it would most help. Yes, I have celiac disease, and it is a royal pain to go out to eat and play the "They say they're gluten free, but am I going to get sick?" guessing game. Unlike 'normal' people, I have to bother the manager, every damn time, to make sure the people in the back don't assume "oh, its one of those gluten free fad idiots again" and play careless roulette with my meal. Managers are mostly nice, though, and in most reputable restaurants, they do their best to take care of it. If their corporate has told them the truth about the gluten content of their menus, if their suppliers have told them the truth about the gluten content of the ingredients, etc. This gadget would go a long ways to solving that. I'm not convinced that this neat gadget is going to solve the problem of cross-contamination, though. But I am watching with interest. Thank you Gizmag.
Caging101
@: Wolf0579. I suffer from Wheat Allergies. And this allergy has been coming to the fore more recently in the medic community as its been overlooked. So I believe one should not pre judge a medical condition and the amount of sufferers who go through great pains to eat and not suffer from the side effects the reaction brings. Just because you don't suffer from it does not mean there is less value for those who don't. Celiac disease is only one of the major ones, wheat allergies, irritable bowl syndrome, Hashimoto's disease just to name a few where gluten from wheat, rye and barley effects a person's health and quality of life as the protein from Gluten effects the T4 and T3 levels in the Thyroid gland. And this is all new research showing this problem. So, yes there is a demand for Gluten Free tests on foods as the 2 of the 3 conditions mentioned Hashimotos and Celiac do more damage when Gluten is consumed. The number of sufferers has increased due to better tests and diagnosis, years ago it was not the case.