When Evan Garner was in preschool, a taste of an egg resulted in a life-threatening allergic reaction.
Now 11, Evan and fellow New Albany-Plain Local student Will Underhill, 13, have invented a product to identify allergens in food while on the go. They will compete with it in the National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo on Thursday, June 1, at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Washington, D.C.
Their invention, AllerGO!, is a portable kit with allergen test strips for milk or eggs.
Evan, a fifth-grader, and Will, a seventh-grader, said they worked with a biochemist from Columbus State Community College and representatives from food-safety company Neogen Corp., which donated materials for the allergen kits.
On each test strip are monoclonal antibodies, which are responsible for causing an allergic reaction within the body, Will said.
"That's the cell that reacts to (the allergen)," Will said.
The antibodies, Evan said, are drawn from the blood of an animal that is allergic to a particular allergen, in this case milk or eggs.
To conduct the allergen test, a person would use a cotton swab to take a sample of the food in question, dip the swab in a capsule of distilled water and shake the capsule for one minute. The water then would be poured into the capsule cap and the tester placed flat on the cap.
The food would be determined safe to eat if two lines appear that match the lines already on the test strip, Will said.
Additional lines represent the degree to which the allergen is present in the food, he said. One additional line, for example, means the food in question contains a small amount of the allergen.
Evan's mother, Heather Garner, said her family learned the hard way that the test strips require about a minute before the results are ready.
Family members were testing ice cream using AllerGO! and had thought they were using an egg-free flavor when in fact they mistakenly had purchased another flavor containing egg.
"All of a sudden, Evan's lips start blowing up," Garner said.
They discovered the discarded test strip had developed lines indicating egg was present, she said.
The test strips Neogen supplied for AllerGO! are used in large manufacturing facilities to swab equipment, Garner said, and her son and Will reworked the design to make it more personal and portable.
Although Evan is planning to add additional test strips for other food allergens, such as gluten, Garner said, her family will use the egg tester going forward for a bit of reassurance during travel or when dining out.