Allergy patch creators ExVivo want you to be able to do at-home testing

People who suspect they have allergies may soon have an easier way to find out than booking an appointment with a specialist and waiting months to get tested.

Patch would detect an allergen in about 15 minutes

Eric Blondeel, left, and Moufeed Kaddoura, right, have are working on an allergy testing patch that could allow people to test for allergies at home. The University of Waterloo grads have started ExVivo Labs and are working to make their patch available in pharmacies in the future. (University of Waterloo)

People who suspect they have allergies may soon have an easier way to find out than booking an appointment with a specialist and waiting months to get tested.

Two University of Waterloo graduates have created what they're calling the ExVivo patch, which they hope will give people the ability to test themselves at home.

Moufeed Kaddoura, CEO of ExVivo Labs along with his co-founder and CTO Eric Blondeel, have been working on the patch for two years and it initially started after they looked up allergy tests on Google.

"We saw pictures of kids and they backs swollen up because they were undergoing the current test," Kaddoura said. "We knew as scientists and engineers that we can develop something that was a lot better."

How it works

Users put the quarter-sized patch on their forearms and wait about fifteen minutes. The patch will detect an allergic reaction without without irritating the skin, according to the founders, since the reaction happens inside the patch and not on the skin's surface. The patch changes colour when an allergy is detected, similar to a pregnancy test.

From there, results can be taken to a doctor for additional tests or treatments. Kaddoura and Blondeel say the patches could give doctors more time to treat patients with allergies.

In traditional allergy tests, small drops of liquid containing an allergen are put on the skin of the forearm and then the skin is pricked with a needle or scratched to see if a reaction will occur. In other cases, doctors inject allergens into the skin directly.

Traditional allergy testing may involve putting drops of diluted allergens on skin and then irritating the skin with a needle to see what reactions occur. (Anthony Ricci/Shutterstock )

"Basically what we're doing is we're picking up the immunological information of the skin and giving you a simple read out of this information," Kaddoura said.

Kaddoura and Blondeel are working on a patch that would detect a single allergen initially, but they're hoping to eventually introduce a different patch that could test up to 15 to 20 different allergens.  The product is still in development, so the pair aren't ready to name a date when it might be available to buy.

The group wants to make the patches available for purchase over the counter at pharmacies.

People aren't getting tested

Kaddoura and his team spoke with allergists in the Kitchener area to get a better understanding of some of the problems behind allergy testing. Currently patients must be referred to an allergist by a family doctor which can sometimes take months.

The ExVivo team were also surprised to find that many people they spoke to who claimed to have an allergy have never actually been tested.

"When we spoke to doctors about this, they nod their heads and say 'yeah we know, not a lot of people are getting allergy tested' and for us this is really bad," Kaddoura said. "If you're guessing about your allergies you are left very vulnerable."

Along with the long wait time, misconceptions about allergy tests may be, in part, why some people don't get tested. Dr. Harold Kim, a private allergist in Kitchener says that some individuals feel nervous before getting a test.

"I think often patients are nervous because there's a perception that it's going to be a lot of needle fuse and that it's going to be very uncomfortable and painful," Kim said. "We do it cautiously but generally it's always well tolerated and easy. Even for young kids."

With the allergy patch, Kaddoura and their team hope that this could make the first step easier and encourage more people to get tested.  

The next step

The team is in early stages of working an app that will accompany the allergy patch. The goal is to eventually use a smartphone to scan the patch after it has detected an allergy and provide further information like what foods and potential allergens to avoid and where allergists are located in your area.  

The team at ExVivo labs also hopes to launch a peanut patch aimed for children in the future.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story misidentified Eric Blondeel and Moufeed Kaddoura in the accompanying photo. Eric Blondeel is on the right and Moufeed Kaddoura is on the left.
    Apr 28, 2016 12:56 PM ET