Scientists in the US claim to have developed a better technology to detect food allergies in people.

A team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says that the technology can analyse individual immune cells taken from patients, allowing precise measurement of cells’ response to allergens like milk and peanuts, the latest edition of the ’Lab on a Chip’ journal reported.

Using this technology, doctors could one day diagnose food allergies with a simple blood test that would be faster and more reliable than current tests, according to Christopher Love, who led the team.

“With a large number of diagnoses, it’s ambiguous. A lot of times it’s almost circumstantial whether you’re allergic to one thing or another,” he said.

The technology screens the patient’s immune cells for small proteins known as cytokines. Immune cells such as T cells produce cytokines when an allergic response’s initiated, attracting other cells to join in the response.

To perform the test, blood must be drawn from the patient, and white blood cells (which include T cells) are isolated from the sample. The cells are exposed to a potential allergen and then placed into about 100,000 individual wells arranged in a lattice pattern on a soft rubber surface.

Using a technique known as microengraving, the scientists make “prints” of the cytokines produced by each cell onto the surface of a glass slide. The amount of cytokine secreted by each individual cell can be precisely measured.

For food-allergy testing, the cytokines of most interest are IL4, IL5 and IL9, say the scientists.