Current methods of testing people for food allergies are not particularly precise, leaving many people to falsely think that they have a condition that they really don’t. MIT chemical engineer Christopher Love is working on a new test based on cytokines that may prove out to be substantially faster and more reliable.
MIT press office explains:
Instead of detecting antibodies, his system screens the patient’s immune cells for small proteins known as cytokines. Immune cells such as T cells produce cytokines when an allergic response is initiated, attracting other cells to join in the response.
To perform the test, blood must be drawn from the patient, and white blood cells (which include T cells) are isolated from the sample.
The cells are exposed to a potential allergen and then placed into about 100,000 individual wells arranged in a lattice pattern on a soft rubber surface. Using a technique known as microengraving, the researchers make “prints” of the cytokines produced by each cell onto the surface of a glass slide. The amount of cytokine secreted by each individual cell can be precisely measured.
For food-allergy testing, the cytokines of most interest are IL4, IL5 and IL9.