That’s a problem that Abigail Barnes, a food allergy sufferer herself, is trying to solve with a new wearable device.
Allergy Amulet is essentially a two-piece allergen detection kit. A small case, which can be worn on a necklace, bracelet, watch, or cell phone case, contains a disposable strip that can be inserted into a dish. The strip has microscopic cavities on it that match the molecular shape of the unique proteins in a given allergen. If that allergen is present in a dish, the proteins in it will bind to the strip.
When you insert the strip into a reader — that’s the second part of the kit — the device will flash and buzz if the strip picked up any of the hazardous proteins.
So if you’re allergic to peanuts and you’re not sure whether the nut is hidden in your food, all you have to do is dip the strip into the dish. If the strip picks up any peanut particles, the reader will alert you. Then you can throw out the strip and replace it with a new one on your necklace or bracelet. The reader can be mounted to your phone or carried separately.
The device will begin beta testing soon, according to Slate. The company won a spot with MassChallenge, a Boston-based startup accelerator, and has been working on the device with the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy Research at Stanford.
As of now, the device being tested will only be able to detect peanuts, which are the leading cause of food-related anaphylactic shock in the US. By starting with peanuts, the company is dealing with the biggest offender — in recent years, allergen researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital found that the prevalence of peanut allergies in children tripled between 1997 and 2010.
The creators of the Allergy Amulet claim the device is extremely sensitive, and can detect peanut particles at levels as low as 1-2 parts per million. To put that in perspective, a study published in Clinical & Experimental Allergy found that 95% of people who are allergic to peanuts would be safe with concentrations less than 24 parts per million. In other words, if you’re incredibly sensitive to peanuts — even in tiny concentrations — the device will likely detect them.
But peanuts are just the tip of the iceberg. The company tells Slate that it’s also planning to develop detection strips for shellfish, tree nuts, dairy, soy, and gluten at some point in the future.