Food allergies cause 200,000 emergency room visits in the U.S. annually, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. In a study by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, hidden allergens were the cause of nearly one-quarter all food allergenic reactions. The AAFA lists peanuts as the most common food allergen, followed by milk and shellfish.
Abi Barnes, a lifelong food allergy sufferer with allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish, co-founded Allergy Amulet. The company co-founder, Dr. Joseph BelBruno, a Dartmouth College chemistry professor, brings expertise in sensor technologies. The company’s eponymous wearable food allergen detection device is under development with Gener8tor, a business accelerator. Allergy Amulet’s rapid, portable, point-of-consumption food allergen detection device connects to a disposable test strip. The user attaches the amulet to a disposable test strip and inserts it into food; results are delivered in seconds, according to the company. Allergy Amulet has prototype designs of the amulet incorporated as a necklace or carried in a wristband or smartphone case. Another design concept integrates the Allergy Amulet into an Epi-Pen.
According to the company, the amulet uses a molecularly imprinted polymer that can capture the presence of an allergen in seconds. The polymer has synthetic cavities that match specific allergens in shape, charge, and other molecular properties. Detected allergens bind to the cavities in a “lock-and-key” fit. The binding then sets off a chemical reaction that alerts the user to the allergen presence. The company claims the technology has been validated at concentrated as low as parts per trillion. Allergy Amulet is targeting peanut protein for the first product, with a target threshold level of 1 to 2 parts per million. The company later plans devices to detect tree nuts, dairy, shellfish, and gluten.
The Allergy Amulet does not have a firm release date for its first product. Abi Barnes was quoted in Slate cautioning about potential consequences of errors with any allergen detection technology. “Our device is inherently a supplement,” she said, “and not a substitute, to the standard precautionary measures an allergy sufferer would otherwise take when dining out or eating foods prepared by others.”