The much discussed laboratory tool known as CRISPR could soon become a rapid, inexpensive, highly sensitive diagnostic tool with the potential to transform research and global public health.
A Broad Institute-led team has presented a study in which they show how they had turned CRISPR into an inexpensive, reliable diagnostic tool that could also be used to detect not only viral and bacterial diseases but also potentially to find cancer-causing mutations.
It could for example detecting Zika virus at low concentrations in blood, urine and saliva, but it was alsoable to distinguish between two different strains of the virus.
The earlier controversial gene-editing tool used a molecule called CRISPR Cas9, but this one uses another enzyme, characterized for the first time only a year ago, and now dubbed Cas13a.
The name choosen for the new toll is unforgetable SHERLOCK, wich stands for Specific High Sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter UnLOCKing.
“Nature is really amazing. Over the course of billions of years, it’s come up with all these very powerful enzyme systems, and by studying the basic biology of these systems, some of them will give rise to important applications — like genome editing, like diagnostics,” Feng Zhang, of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and one of the pioneers of CRISPR, told in an interview with The Washington Post.
Zhang and his 18 colleagues says that the new technique is highly portable and could cost as little as 61 cents per test in the field. also it will be extremely useful in remote places without reliable electricity or easy access to a modern diagnostic laboratory:“We showed that this system is very stable, so you can really put it on a piece of paper and it will survive. You don’t have to refrigerate it all the time,” Zhang said.
William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases and preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, who was not involved in the new research says “If you had something that could be used as a screening test, very inexpensively and rapidly, that would be a huge advance, particularly if it could detect an array of infectious agents.”
Co-author Jim Collins said the scientists behind SHERLOCK have filed for patents on the technology, and are discussing ways to move their new tool from the laboratory to the clinical arena.