Portable testing device project gets funding boost

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: Proxentia. A concept of the device and testing workflow
Picture: Proxentia. A concept of the device and testing workflow

Related tags: Food

A project to create a portable food testing device has received a funding boost to help bring it to market.

Sensor Technology for Food analYsis (STEFY) involves Italian companies ProXentia, a spin-off company of the University of Milan, Enologica Vason, ODL and Swedish-based Agrisera.

The funding was provided as part of the Horizon2020 SME Instrument Phase 2. The phase 1 grant was awarded in September 2014.

They were some of 45 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) from 19 countries to be selected.

Funding allows them to invest in demonstration, testing, scaling up and miniaturisation, as well as developing a business plan.

How the device works

Marco Buscaglia, co-founder and VP of Proxentia, said the project will start in April and last two years.

“The aim of STEFY is to introduce a product and a technology for food safety testing. We have targeted the production and supply chain first,” ​he told FoodQualityNews.

“It is in three parts: the device is a reader as big as a shoe box, portable but not hand-held, then the disposable cartridges and also the app or software on a smartphone, tablet or computer that connects with the reader.

“We have a number of demonstrators and do measurements depending on the material and sample, for example, it might be cereals or powders.

“You put the sample in the cartridge, the cartridge in the reader and follow instructions on the app. You can have results in 10 to 30 minutes with the presence and concentration of different targets.

“With STEFY we are targeting allergens and toxins in wine and cereals.”

The STEFY device can determine and quantify the presence or absence of molecules for on-site
application due to the customised cartridges it uses.

These are glass substrate with anti-reflection coatings combined with functionalized nanoparticles for an optimal signal amplification.

The technology is based on the Reflective Phantom Interface, a methodology patented by Proxentia.

Buscaglia said it can detect molecules without fluorescence or markers and selectivity is provided by the antibodies.

“There are three partners in the project, ODL SRL help in fabricating the sensing chip and embedding it into the cartridge. The cartridge cost about €5-10 and you can measure one sample and see several targets,” ​he said.

“Agrisera AB produces the antibodies acquired for development of specific analysis. The reagents required are already available but we optimise and fine-tune the performance of molecules on our surface.

“Enologica Vason evaluates the device and compares it to other technology and tests the system on samples collected.”

Market space and market need

Buscaglia said the technology fits in-between a lateral flow device, which is easy and fast and ELISA, which is lab based and requires trained personnel.

“You get a quantitative result in our technology of mycotoxin and allergens, with a lateral flow device you need a stick and then another stick, but you can multiplex using our system,” ​he said.

“It is sufficient and helpful to get a fast response and go to the lab after to get more definitive results.

We are focussed on wine and cereals but it could be used in milk. It can be adapted, we have performed tests on other products, juice or other liquid - anything placed in liquid can be detected.”

Buscaglia said at the end of the two year project it will have a prototype and have validated tests.

This device will be ready to be embedded for large scale production at the end of project and we have the chance to make another round of optimisations if we need to,” ​he said.

“The EU project has given us strong financial help and decreased the risk associated with this project because there is always a risk.

“We have studied the needs of the market in the last few years, we made a definite effort to look at what they need. We talked about human diagnostics and we are still looking at that but food has a lower entry barrier and higher potential.

“It is the need of the market, there is a lot of technology around that started for other fields and in the food industry there is an opportunity for fast response and analysis. The device doesn’t need expertise, it can save time and that saves money, because you want to know if your material is contaminated before you start production.”

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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