Better Way to Detect Food Allergies

(Credit: Qing Han and Christopher Love)

About 30 percent of Americans believe they have food allergies.

However, the actual number is far smaller, closer to 5 percent, closer to 5 percent, according to a recent study commissioned by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). That’s due in large part to the unreliability of the skin test that doctors commonly use to test for food allergies.

MIT chemical engineer Christopher Love believes he has a better way to diagnose such allergies. His new technology, described in the June 7 issue of the journal Lab on a Chip, can analyze individual immune cells taken from patients, allowing for precise measurement of the cells’ response to allergens such as milk and peanuts.

Using this technology, doctors could one day diagnose food allergies with a simple blood test that would be faster and more reliable than current tests, says Love, an assistant professor of chemical engineering. “With a large number of diagnoses, it’s ambiguous,” he says. “A lot of times it’s almost circumstantial whether you’re allergic to one thing or another.”

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