Nima, a small healthcare technology company focused on food allergies, made a splash at the Consumer Electronics Show this week in Las Vegas with the debut of its new Nima Peanut Sensor. This sleek triangular device, modeled after the company’s wildly successful Nima Gluten Sensor, is very portable – able to fit in a small purse or backpack – and uses disposable capsules to detect peanut protein at 20 ppm or greater in food and drinks.
Though Nima’s peanut sensors are not technically medical devices, they are helping to target one of the most under-addressed symptoms of peanut allergy: anxiety. For people with peanut allergies and their families, every single meal can feel like a life-or-death situation. Despite painstaking research and scouring of food labels, accidental ingestion of an offending food is surprisingly common. Unlike exposure to environmental allergens (for example, pollen, grass or dust mites), exposure to peanut allergen can cause severe, potentially life-threatening anaphylaxis.
This constant feeling of being out of control is exactly what Nima cofounders (and fellow food allergy sufferers) Shireen Yates and Scott Sundvor are aiming to combat. If the product is as effective as the Nima Gluten Sensor (which was shown to have 99.5% accuracy), the Nima Peanut Sensor could revolutionize the lives of millions of peanut allergy patients around the world.
Using the Nima Peanut Sensor
To check for peanut contamination using the new Nima device, a small quantity of food is added into a new peanut test capsule that is then inserted into the device. The user presses start and waits for two or three minutes as the device performs an entire series of laboratory tests within one self-contained, automated unit. First it grinds up the food sample, mixes it into a solution, and then performs a chromogenic immunoassay using custom peanut protein-specific antibodies.
The resulting color change is captured by an electronic optical reader and translated into one of two outputs on the digital display: a “smile” (the food is safe) or a “peanut found” statement (meaning that greater than 20ppm peanut protein was detected). Nima has also created an app that connects to the device via Bluetooth, allowing patients and their families to record and review test results as well as share reviews on restaurants and packaged foods.
Though a fascinating and exciting advance, the device is not without its limitations. Firstly, Nima is not meant to substitute for a patient’s daily diligence in making careful food choices. Nima can only provide “an extra layer of data” that allows people with allergies to make more informed eating decisions. This is especially important in the peanut allergy indication, which in comparison to accidental ingestion of gluten in celiac disease, can lead to rapid anaphylaxis and death if the device is wrong.
Additionally, Nima is expensive – $289 for the device and 12 test capsules – so it may not be a viable option for everyone. It is not typically covered by insurance, but some plans may allow for it to be purchased using funds from a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or Health Savings Account (HSA). Though the Nima Peanut Sensor is a step in the right direction, GlobalData believes that people with peanut allergies should hold onto their EpiPens—for now.
GlobalData (2018). OpportunityAnalyzer: Peanut Allergy – Opportunity Analysis and Forecasts to 2027, to be published