Lab News

Big idea, small package. Nanotechnology detects food allergens


New allergen detector from the University of Guelph could help save lives 

The Record Newspaper Magazine News (link

CTV Kitchener TV Interview (link)  (Video File download)


Photo Credit: University of Guelph - June 29, 2016

You can’t buy one yet, but University of Guelph researchers have come up with a device that can tell you if potentially dangerous food allergens are in the food you’re about to eat.

The tool, developed by researchers at the U of G’s BioNano Laboratory, is a portable apparatus that can identify allergens such as peanuts or gluten. The new wallet-sized detector allows for on-location testing and could expedite allergen reporting and reduce the number of allergic reactions through more timely results, a news release said.

The process requires a small amount of the suspected food to be liquefied in a suspension. A filter syringe is then used to inject it into a silicon-based plate developed by the researchers.

“As the sample passes through tiny tubes of the microfluidic chip, it travels through a beam of light from a LED source that is monitored by a specialized camera,” BioNano Lab director Suresh Neethirajan said in the release.

“The allergen glows and the camera is able to decipher a result in just 10 minutes. We also are developing a new app that will allow us to have results almost immediately. Typically, it would take two to three days to hear from a lab, but now, we should be able to know for certain in two to three minutes.”

In addition, since the technology uses microfluidics and nano-equipment, it requires a very small sample, the release said.

“We’re bringing down the volume of the reagents involved, making this a more environmentally friendly way of testing allergens,” BioNano research engineer Xuan Weng said in the release.

With one in 10 people in the world suffering from a food allergy, the researchers see a market for the device, for which they have already filed a patent, though it will not be available on the market for a couple of years.

“This device could be used by manufacturers, food safety inspectors, restaurant owners and servers, customers, or any one concerned about food safety,” said Neethirajan.

“We’re also working on making the device capable of detecting other allergens, such as shellfish. What we’re doing is going from being reactive with allergies to actually preventing them. This device could transform the future of identifying hazardous food components.


Lucas Penny - Bionanolab mentee and a collaborating high school student working with Steven Panesar has won multiple awards this past May 2016.


Lucas Penny, Grimsby Sec. School, grade 11 student won a gold medal at the Canada Wide Science Fair and Canada’s most prestigious innovation award from the Ernest C. Manning Innovation Awards. Lucas will be honoured at the Foundation’s Awards Gala this Oct. and receives $7,500 for his innovative science fair project which is a low-cost system for detecting breast cancer in the early stages.


Early breast cancer detection earns our major student award!

Lucas Penny, 17, Grade 11 student at Grimsby Secondary School, has been actively involved with science most of his life and this year focused on finding a successful, low-cost system for detecting breast cancer in its early stages. For those efforts he earned a $7,500 Young Canadian Innovator Award and a trip to our National Awards Gala this October in Halifax where he will be honoured.

This Gold-medal study conducted at the BioNanoLab of the University of Guelph under the supervision of Steven Panesar and Professor Suresh Neethirajan, used a profile of miRNA, which are pieces of specialized genetic material used in regulating gene expression, characteristic to breast cancer, for earlier detection of the onset of breast cancer. Penny found that these miRNAs could be found in saliva providing an easy, non-invasive way of obtaining the miRNAs and testing for the onset of breast cancer in different patients. To do this, Penny devised a way to make use of quantum dots (normally used in TVs to produce different colours), which are particles that are one-millionth of a centimeter big that produce light when activated. Penny combined these quantum dots with their own miRNAs. Furthermore, he developed a piece of genetic material that acts as an infrastructure for miRNAs to interact with, but on its own, will produce a certain coloured light that is able to be detected. However, only when a specific miRNA from the breast cancer profile is present, will the cancer-specific miRNA, as well as the quantum dot bind to the infrastructure and activate the quantum dot to produce a different coloured light that is able to be detected, indicating the presence of cancer.

In addition to creating the required miRNAs and specialized quantum dots, Penny created a device that will combine the saliva of the patient in question with the quantum dots and infrastructure genetic material, which will mix and produce either the light from the infrastructure indicating the absence of cancer, or will emit light from the quantum dot indicating the presence of cancer.

The method, in conjunction with the device Penny created, will be able to detect changes in the range of one quadrillionth of a gram to one billionth of a gram of miRNA, which will determine if a patient has early signs of cancer. This model that Penny developed, with its extreme sensitivity, will also be very cheap, being approximately five dollars per test. It can be very quick, taking less than 10 minutes to return results and with further miRNA profile characterization of other cancers or diseases, it may be possible to have a non-invasive, inexpensive quick and easy test for early onset of various diseases.







Congratulations to Mr. Steven Panesar for successfully defending his master's project. Steven is moving to California for continuing PhD studies.

Ultra-Sensitive Detection of Breast Cancer Biomarkers Using Time-Resolved FRET and Quantum-Dots

Advisor: Dr. Suresh Neethirajan

Committee Member: Dr. Simon Yang


Breast cancer is defined as a malignant neoplasm that occurs at or around the breast issue area. This disease affected 25,000 women last year in Canada and claimed the lives of 5,000 women. These numbers represent 26% and 14% of all new breast cancer and deaths, respectively, for Canadian women in 2015. These numbers do not tell us the amount of lives that were affected due to the disease, which can go into the hundred thousands. Here we develop a multiplexed microfluidics chip that accurately detects miR-195 and let-7a in human serum samples. MicroRNAs (miRNA) are small noncoding messenger RNA that are derived from messenger RNA. These small robust RNAs are looked at as precursors to many different diseases including breast cancer. Both miR-195 and let-7a have been shown to increases in concentration in human serum samples during cancer and decrease in concentration within tumor cells during cancer. To effectively measure miRNA concentration in blood with minimally invasive techniques, the developed microfluidics chip detects the miRNA levels from human blood using time resolved-förster resonance energy transfer. The detection mechanism uses a DNA zipper that binds the miRNA with an 8 base pair (bp) DNA supporter sequence and a complementary DNA sequence. When the supporter, complementary and miRNA sequences bind together a terbium-cryptate molecule excites a quantum-dot (710 nm for let-7a and 655 nm for miR- 195) and the fluorescence is measured. Detection limits of the miRNAs are 10 picomolar, with a dynamic range of 10 nM to 0.1 nM when measured with microfluidics chips


BioNano Group celebrating Steven's successful Defense at the Grad Lounge Restaurant at the UofG Campus on May 23, 2016.  L to R - Suresh, Steven, Kristina, Xuan, Cynthya, Ryan. Abdul - Photographer.

L to R - Suresh, Steven, Kristina, Xuan, Cynthya, Ryan and Abdul - May 23, 2016 @ Grad Lounge Bar

A microfluidic biosensor using graphene oxide and aptamer-functionalized quantum dots for peanut allergen detection

Xuan Weng & Suresh Neethirajan

Biosensors & Bioeelctronics   (Link)


The increasing prevalence of food allergies and the intake of packing foods in the past two decades urge the need for more rapid, accurate, and sensitive assays to detect potential allergens in food in order to control the allergen content. Most of the commercial analytical tools for allergen detection rely on immunoassays such as ELISA. As far as disadvantages, ELISA can be time-consuming and expensive. Biosensors appear as a suitable alternative for the detection of allergens because they are rapid, highly sensitive, selective, less expensive, environmentally friendly, and easy to handle. In this study, we developed a microfluidic system integrated with a quantum dots (Qdots) aptamer functionalized graphene oxide (GO) nano-biosensor for simple, rapid, and sensitive food allergen detection. The biosensor utilized Qdots-aptamer-GO complexes as probes to undergo conformational change upon interaction with the food allergens, resulting in fluorescence changes due to the fluorescence quenching and recovering properties of GO by adsorption and desorption of aptamer-conjugated Qdots. This one-step ‘turn on’ homogenous assay in a ready-to-use microfluidic chip took ~10 min to achieve a quantitative detection of Ara h 1, one of the major allergens appearing in peanuts. The results suggested this system had remarkable sensitivity and selectivity. The integration of a microfluidics platform in a homemade miniaturized optical analyzer provides a promising way for the rapid, cost-effective, and accurate on-site determination of food allergens. This biosensor can also be extended to the detection of other food allergens with a selection of corresponding aptamers.

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Bionanotechnology Laboratory
Suresh Neethirajan

School of Engineering
University of Guelph
Guelph, Ontario
Canada N1G 2W1

Room 3513 - Richards Building
50 Stone Road East

Lab: THRN 2133 BioNano Lab

Phone: (519) 824-4120 Ext 53922
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