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    Can Cheap, Reliable Gluten Tests Change the World of Celiac Disease?

    Jefferson Adams
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    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

      Virginia entrepreneurs inventing test kit to help celiac sufferers to avoid gluten.


    Photo: CC--Greg
    Caption: Photo: CC--Greg

    Celiac.com 08/21/2017 - Can a tiny Virginia start-up change the world with a cheap, reliable devise to test food for gluten on the fly?

    With their startup called Altede, Ed and Anna Champion, together with business partner Briana Petruzzi, hope to build quick, cheap tests for all sorts of food allergens. Their first target is gluten. Altede is looking to develop a test that is reliable, sensitive to FDA levels of 20ppm gluten, costs less than $5 and could be performed within a couple of minutes while sitting at a restaurant table.



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    The Altede team doesn't expect anyone to test everything they eat. But those with severe gluten intolerance might find peace of mind in a pinch.

    "We really want to keep the cost low. We think that's going to be critical," says Ed Champion. "You know, $15 and you're not going to do it. It's going to be too painful. But $3 or $5…what's your afternoon worth?"

    Altede has developed an antibody that they grow inside of and later extract from mice, a technique also used by pregnancy test manufacturers. The antibody is specially engineered to latch onto protein molecules inside gluten. A user like Anna Champion would carry the kit, which is about the size of a pack of M&M's. When she comes across a food she wants to eat but suspects may make her sick, she puts a pea-sized sample into a liquid container that comes inside the pouch.

    She would shake it up and then dip the test strip.
    The liquid would creep along the paper, passing a stripe of the antibodies Altede designed. If gluten is present, the antibodies will latch on to the proteins, accumulate on the paper and produce a visible pink line.

    So far, their prototype device can detect small amounts of gluten. The prototype looks and operates just like a pregnancy test. But the test currently takes hours, instead of minutes.

    Ed Champion says that tweaks to the chemistry will provide quicker results, though there are still a number of technical challenges to overcome. But after two years of development, Champion says the team is getting close.

    To help the, prepare their portable gluten tester for a product launch, Altede recently enrolled in the first cohort of RAMP, Roanoke's business accelerator, and received a $50,000 grant from the state's Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund.

    Once the company can quickly and reliably test for gluten, it will use the same technology to build tests for a number of different food allergens.

    Champion has invested more than $30,000 in the venture to date. He supplies the business knowledge for the company, while Anna Champion, a Virginia Tech researcher, and Petruzzi, a Ph.D. student, are the scientific brains behind the operation.

    Stay tuned for updates on Altede and their efforts to build a better gluten test.

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    There is already one test device (on sale ~$199 right now) using $5/test capsules and taking just minutes. But let´s suppose I want to know if the french fries are safe. Five dollars. How about the steamed vegetables (sometimes steamed in broth made with gluten). Five more dollars. And a main course? Five more dollars. Five dollars isn't asking too much, but when you consider that it may take three or four tests to check out a meal, or a $5 test for a $2 side order of fries...I´m sorry but the $5 price point just isn't low enough. At a buck or two it becomes a no-brainer and affordable. At $5 it still is something where I'm going to trust the chef and label--or just skip the questionable foods.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,500 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.


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