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Meet Nima, the food tester that could change your life.

This triangle-shaped food allergen tester is half the size of an iPhone and can detect gluten in any meal.

Meet Nima, the food tester that could change your life.
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During her studies at MIT, Shireen Yates felt sick all the time. She couldn't figure out why.

She assumed her problem was stress until her doctor informed her it was gluten — plus dairy, soy, and eggs. Suddenly, Shireen had food allergies.


Meet Shireen Yates, co-founder and creator of 6SensorLabs. Hi, Shireen! Photo by 6SensorLabs, used with permission.

Around the same time as her diagnosis, Shireen met Scott Sundvor, a fellow MIT student with food sensitivities of his own. The rest is history: Fed up with the lack of practical ways to test their food for gluten, Shireen and Scott co-founded 6SensorLabs, a lab where they planned to invent a food allergy tool for the masses. Their colleague Jingqing Zhang, an MIT Ph.D. candidate whose husband has celiac disease, became the company's lead scientist.

Nothing brings people together for the holidays like a festive family dinner. But Shireen knew that for food allergy sufferers, there could be danger lurking in every entrée.

Gluten is found in anything containing wheat, rye, or barley. And for most people, it's a normal part of a healthy diet.

But about 1% of Americans suffer from celiac disease, an immune response to gluten that harms the intestines. And six times as many people have non-celiac gluten sensitivities.

Yum, gluten. Photo by iStock.

“It definitely affects the person who's afflicted, but certainly everyone's social circle too," says Shireen.

So as much as you want to trust that Grandma remembered to make gluten-free pecan pie for the holiday meal, how can you be sure before taking a bite?

You could always whip out your pocket-sized chemistry set and run some tests. No, really.

Shireen and her 6SensorLabs team just announced their new tool, called Nima. It's a triangle-shaped food allergen tester that's half the size of an iPhone and will be available in mid-2016.

Nima didn't find gluten in this meal — happy face! Photo by 6SensorLabs, used with permission.

Here's how it works: Before you help yourself to that pie, you slip a sample from your plate into one of the device's disposable capsules. Then, you put the capsule into the electronic sensor. Nima extracts the protein, binds it with an antibody, and reads the concentration through the sensor.

Two minutes later, boom — it lights up with your answer! You get a smiley face for gluten levels under the FDA gluten-free threshold, and a frowny face for higher concentrations.

Right now, Nima can only test for gluten, but the company is on track to release models for people with peanut and dairy allergies in 2017.

It could be a total game-changer.

Nima will also sync with an iPhone app, which will record the foods you test and where you test them, ultimately letting you view data from other users all over the map.

“Really, the whole inspiration is around helping people enjoy mealtime and being able to be social and celebrate eating without being super stressed-out," says Shireen.

This simple access to data could be powerful enough to make mealtime cheerier for people with food allergies — during the holiday season and throughout the year. Fingers crossed!

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less