CRISPR Could Be the Future of Disease Diagnosis
The biotechnology tool best known for gene editing is being used to develop portable, at-home tests for infectious disease and even cancer. It could change how medicine is done.
Today when you get sick, you need to make an appointment to see your doctor. That might take a few days, and during that time, maybe you keep going to work because you’re not sure what’s wrong — or maybe you start to feel worse.
When you finally see a doctor — assuming you have insurance — she might make a probable diagnosis based on your symptoms alone, or run a test to see if you have the flu or another common infection. Depending on the test, it could take another few days to get the results back, days that could be lost to illness, before your doctor can finally prescribe a treatment.
But in the near future, new diagnostic tests could make it possible to save time and money by skipping a visit to the doctor altogether. Similar to an at-home pregnancy test, such diagnostics could render a clear positive or negative result within minutes. That result could be sent via an app on your phone to your doctor, who could then immediately write a prescription or suggest a course of care. The tests could even be used in a hospital setting to rapidly determine the specific genetic mutations causing a tumor, or allow people to quickly determine their future genetic risk of certain kinds of cancer.
These are the ideas driving Mammoth Biosciences and Sherlock Biosciences, two startups that are both developing paper tests that use CRISPR — a breakthrough technology best known as a gene-editing tool — to rapidly diagnose disease. As the race to treat diseases with CRISPR heats up and the first human clinical trials get underway, there is also potential in employing CRISPR to make fast, portable diagnostics that could be used almost anywhere to detect practically any infection or genetic mutation.
“When you sneeze and have a fever, you want to know what type of illness you’re suffering from,” says Feng Zhang, co-founder of Sherlock Biosciences. Zhang believes that if people could stay home and test themselves, instead of traveling to a doctor’s appointment and…