How CRISPR gene-editing tech could be used to run rapid COVID tests at home

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By KCBS Radio

While the nation’s COVID-19 testing network has become much more robust than it was in the early days of the pandemic, the promise of rapid tests at home still has not been realized.

But scientists say that CRISPR, the groundbreaking gene-editing technology, may be the key.

“CRISPR is really a revolution that has happened in the past few years in biology and in medicine,” explained Dr. Melanie Ott, director of the Gladstone Institute of Virology.

She has been developing a way to use CRISPR to detect and diagnose viral diseases alongside Dr. Jennifer Doudna, one of the Nobel Prize winning biochemists who first discovered CRISPR.

Aa few years back we have started to brainstorm about how we can use CRISPR as a diagnostic,” said Dr. Ott.

They started out by working on a way to diagnose HIV after Dr. Doudna discovered that the CRISPR-Cas9 enzymes could do more than edit the genome.

“Some of them have a unique capacity to not only cut the genome that they’re recognizing, but also cutting reported nucleic acids that we provide to them in a diagnostic reaction,” explained Dr. Ott.

“And that’s basically what you can use in these CRISPR diagnostic approaches where you use the enzyme to find the target: in this case, the SARS-CoV-2 genome. Then when the enzyme is finding it, it starts to become active and it cleaves the reporter, which then starts to glow or emits other detection modalities, and then you can measure this as a direct measurement of the viral RNA in the sample.”

During the pandemic they quickly adapted the project so that it could be used to detect the coronavirus.

The method is simple enough that it could not only be used for rapid testing, but even testing at home.

“We’re working on various different devices that would allow us to use basically a nasal swab to directly enter it into a little cartridge and then read with a mobile phone the test.”

Dr. Ott says they are a few months away from testing the device.