Scientists from MIT and Broad Institute have developed rapid CRISPR-based test for coronavirus; the at-home test could cost as little as $6
A team of scientists from MIT, the McGovern Institute, and the Broad Institute has developed a gene-editing technology CRISPR-based test for the coronavirus that could work as simply as a pregnancy test. Dubbed STOPCovid, the goal of the effort is to develop point-of-care and at-home tests for COVID-19.
The STOPCovid kit and protocol are currently not to be used for clinical purposes. Although the kit has been validated on patient samples, the test is not FDA authorized. The test is based on a gene-editing technology known as Crispr, and the researchers estimated that the materials for each test would cost about $6.
“We’re excited that this could be a solution that people won’t have to rely on a sophisticated and expensive laboratory to run,” said Feng Zhang, a researcher at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass., and one of the pioneers of Crispr technology.
The group posted a whitepaper of their device on a website dedicated to their project, but their method has not yet been tested by other scientists, nor have their findings been published by a scientific journal that subjected them to scrutiny by independent experts.
According to the whitepaper, the scientists previously developed a sensitive and specific nucleic detection technology called SHERLOCK (Specific High Sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter UnLOCKing) (Gootenberg et al., 2017, 2018), which achieves detection of DNA or RNA virus signatures through two consecutive reactions: (1) amplification of the viral RNA using an isothermal amplification reaction, and (2) detection of the resulting amplicon using CRISPR-mediated collateral reporter unlocking. During the early period of the COVID-19 outbreak, we developed a SHERLOCK-based test for SARS-CoV-2 (SHERLOCK-Covid).
Per New York Times, the scientists say it remains to be seen how the Crispr technique compares to the standard tests now in use, known as polymerase chain reaction. Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a professor of health policy at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Health, “cautioned that the research so far offers only a proof of concept, and that it remains to be seen how well the test would perform in real-world conditions compared to the standard PCR tests now in use, known as polymerase chain reaction, or PCR.” He added that it was important that scientists search for new kinds of tests for the coronavirus.
In a separate development, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, and scientists at Mammoth Biosciences have developed a new test – officially named the “SARS-CoV-2 DETECTR. The new test, which also uses CRISPR to quickly spot the coronavirus in samples from nose or throat swabs, is easy to implement and to interpret, and requires no specialized equipment, which is likely to make the test more widely available than the current crop of COVID-19 test kits.
Though the new test has yet to receive formal approval for clinical use from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, UCSF researchers are clinically validating the test in an effort to fast-track the approval process through a so-called Emergency Use Authorization. “The introduction and availability of CRISPR technology will accelerate deployment of the next generation of tests to diagnose COVID-19 infection,” said Charles Chiu, MD, PhD, professor of laboratory medicine at UCSF and co-lead developer of the new test, which is described in a paper published April 16, 2020, in the journal Nature Biotechnology.