It is estimated that celiac disease affect about 1% of the population. Currently, the only treatment for the disease is a lifelong adherence to a strict gluten-free diet, avoiding foods with wheat, rye and barley. Not sticking to a gluten free diet can lead to a number of other disorders, including infertility, reduced bone density, neurological disorders, other autoimmune diseases and even cancer. In addition, it is estimated that about 7% of the population are gluten-sensitive, with symptoms including digestive problems, headaches, rashes, brain fog and fatigue.
While it seems rather easy to adhere to a diet when you know what you can and cannot eat, it is essential to avoid cross-contamination with foods containing gluten. Although individual, as little as 10 mg gluten can damage the small intestine, and it is therefore important to clean the kitchen utensils and appliances properly before making gluten free food. As a consequence, many find it difficult and very stressful to eat out or at places where they don’t have full control over how the food is prepared.
The startup 6SensorLabs develop breakthrough consumer products so people living with food allergies can eat with confidence and stay healthy. Their first product, Nima, is a discreet and portable sensor that allow consumers to test their food for gluten. Designed in San Francisco by a team from MIT, Stanford, Google and Nike, it has an accuracy of 99.5% at 20ppm of gluten. In field tests it has accurately tested over 3000 samples. With the accompanying Nima app you are also able to share your results, get advice and be part of a greater gluten-free community.
The device is able to test both solids and liquids by taking a tiny sample of the food and putting it in a disposable capsule. By screwing lid shut, the food is grinded and the pre-loaded mixture of reagents binds specifically to the gluten, which is then released to a test strip in the capsule and analyzed by the device. After only 2 minutes, the device lets you know if there is 20ppm or more gluten in the food by displaying a smiley for negative results or frown for positive.
Nima can help millions of people living on strict no-gluten diets and was deservedly named one of the best inventions of 2015 by TIME magazine. And while the device itself is very innovative, it is the understanding of people who live with food allergies that makes it impressive. The team behind 6SensorLabs has identified a problem that many live with on a daily basis, and has made an innovative solution with possible application beyond food sensitivities. In fact, it could have a future in any industry that need a quick test in the field, whether it is food security inspections or drug testing.
The Nima Starter Kit can be pre-ordered from its website for £199, and it is estimated to ship in mid-2016. The company is also developing devices that detect peanuts and dairy, which is expected in 2017.