CRISPR Could Allow for Fast, At-Home Coronavirus Testing
It could be as simple to use as a pregnancy test — but it’s not there yet
Reengineering Life is a series from OneZero about the astonishing ways genetic technology is changing humanity and the world around us.
By now you’ve probably heard of the lab technique CRISPR. The powerful gene-editing tool is being explored to treat a number of diseases and has been used to tweak the genomes of existing plants and animals. It’s also been imagined as a way to create so-called designer babies that have handpicked genetic traits.
But CRISPR’s precise genome-editing ability is also being harnessed as a tool for diagnosing disease — a use that could come to fruition much sooner than gene-editing cures and designer babies. The urgency of the coronavirus pandemic is driving development of CRISPR-based diagnostic tests for Covid-19. Scientists are now making cheap, fast CRISPR tests that could be administered at home, deliver results in less than an hour, and potentially be available by the end of the year.
San Francisco–based startup Mammoth Biosciences has partnered with pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline to develop a handheld, at-home CRISPR test that could give a diagnosis in 20 minutes. Researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard are working on a similar test. Mammoth’s competitor, Sherlock Biosciences, received FDA emergency authorization earlier this month for a CRISPR-based diagnostic test, though it isn’t for at-home use.
Even with the number of Covid-19 cases decreasing in some places across the country, testing is still needed to determine where the virus is spreading and who’s at risk of infection. Public testing sites have popped up all around the United States, but most of these rely on health care workers in personal protective gear who are putting themselves at risk of potential exposure. Home testing could help lower the risk of infection for both medical professionals and the general public by allowing potentially sick people to conduct testing at home. Because CRISPR tests are designed to provide rapid results, people could know sooner rather than later whether they need to self-isolate, further reducing the risk of…