CRISPR and Droplets offer a new way forward in viral diagnostics?

With the re-opening of societies around the world, increased access to diagnostic tests for diseases like COVID-19 is necessary for public health and appropriate disease tracking and response. PCR-based tests and the more recently developed antigen tests are the primary diagnostics used for SARS-CoV-2 specifically. However, tracking more than just SARS-CoV-2 would give scientists and policy makers a much more well-rounded picture of the current state of public health. Therefore, it is necessary to develop a test that can confirm not only SARS-CoV-2, but hundreds of other disease-causing viruses.  

Researchers at the Broad Institute, MIT, and Harvard have recently developed a cheap, robust platform capable of testing hundreds of human-associated viruses. This platform uses CRISPR-Cas13 detection, which identifies specific nucleic acid sequences, the building blocks of viral RNA, and CARMEN, which holds different combinations of known viral nucleic acid samples, and outputs fluorescent signals upon detection. CARMEN-Cas13 is not only cheap and high-throughput, but can also subtype influenza A strains and identify HIV drug-resistance mutations, both of which are significant challenges in current diagnostics. Using these advances in genetics and high-throughput test design, researchers could make the testing apparatus itself incredibly small, allowing hundreds of viral sequences to be run at once at reduced reagent costs of over 300 fold. 

CARMEN-Cas13 seems to offer the potential scalability, specificity, high-throughput, and reduced cost necessary for both precision medicine in the developed world and basic medical testing in the developing world. Though we currently lack diagnostics that can test for several viruses at once, this platform shows us that by harvesting knowledge from bioengineering, we may soon be able to achieve more scalable diagnostic devices for several viral diseases.

Managing Correspondent: Eesha Khare

Original Article: Massively multiplexed nucleic acid detection using Cas13 Nature

Press Article: CRISPR-based diagnostic chips perform thousands of tests simultaneously to detect viruses MIT News. SHERLOCK-based one-step test provides rapid and sensitive Covid-19 detection MIT News

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