Skin tests and blood tests are the standards for initial diagnosis of food allergy. Unfortunately, neither are very reliable. I don't know about you, but when the doctor calls and starts reading off blood test results to me, I hang up the phone feeling more confused than ever. If the "almond number" rose from 2 to 15 in the past year, is my child way more allergic to almonds now than last year? What does, "off the chart for dairy" mean? I've never felt like these numbers give me helpful information.
While the "gold standard" for diagnosing food allergy is the food challenge, it is helpful to have accurate information going into the challenge.
Christopher Love, an MIT engineer, is on the trail of a more precise way to measure food allergies in a blood test. His new technology, recently reported in Lab on a Chip, can analyze individual immune cells. Instead of detecting antibodies, like the current blood test does, Love's 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. Those cells are then exposed to the potential allergen for a precise measurement.
Research continues and human trials are the next step, but I'm hopeful that Love's work will allow those of us who deal with food allergies the abilibty to make better ecisions based on helpful and accurate information.