The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized a COVID-19 test using CRISPR gene editing technology, with results in about an hour. Although the test is only authorized for emergency use, it marks the first time the FDA has allowed CRISPR-based tools to be used in patients. CRISPR technology can quickly find and connect to any gene sequence in the specimen.
The new test, created by biotech company Sherlock Biosciences, uses a molecule to look for viral genes in patient samples. Then, if the molecule finds the gene, it releases a signal that the system can detect.
The standard method used for COVID-19 detection, called PCR, is also a tiny fragment of the search for viral genes. However, this method is slow and requires specialized equipment to run. The recently approved Abbott test can give results in a matter of minutes, but only on the company’s platform. CRISPR-based technology is relatively fast, requiring only basic equipment found in most laboratories.
Experts say the U.S. needs hundreds of thousands more tests a day to contain the pandemic. Fast, simple detection can help reach this scale.
Sherlock Biosciences said in a press release that it is working to produce and distribute test kits. Mammoth Biosciences and two other teams at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are also working on CRISPR-based tests.