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New CRISPR-Based Rapid Test Detects as Many Cases as Standard COVID-19 Diagnostic

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 18 Sep 2020
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Image: SARS-CoV-2 emerging from the surface of cells (Photo courtesy of NIAID)
Image: SARS-CoV-2 emerging from the surface of cells (Photo courtesy of NIAID)
A newly-developed CRISPR-based test has shown improved sensitivity and can detect nearly as many cases as the standard COVID-19 diagnostic.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard (Cambridge, MA, USA), along with their collaborators have been working on a CRISPR-based diagnostic for COVID-19 that can produce results in 30 minutes to an hour, with similar accuracy as the standard PCR diagnostics now used. The new test, known as STOPCovid, is still in the research stage but, in principle, could be made cheaply enough that people could test themselves every day. The idea behind making the assay was that it should be simple to carry out and not require any specialized laboratory equipment. Such a test, they hoped, would be amenable to future use in point-of-care settings, such as doctors’ offices, pharmacies, nursing homes, and schools.

In the new version of STOPCovid, the researchers incorporated a process to concentrate the viral genetic material in a patient sample by adding magnetic beads that attract RNA, eliminating the need for expensive purification kits that are time-intensive and can be in short supply due to high demand. This concentration step boosted the test’s sensitivity so that it now approaches that of PCR. In their latest study, the researchers tested STOPCovid on 402 patient samples - 202 positive and 200 negative - and found that the new test detected 93% of the positive cases as determined by the standard CDC PCR test. They also showed that the STOPCovid test works on samples taken using the less-invasive anterior nares swab. They are now testing it with saliva samples, which could make at-home tests even easier to perform. The researchers are continuing to develop the test with the hope of delivering it to end users to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We developed STOPCovid so that everything could be done in a single step,” said MIT biological engineering graduate Julia Joung, one of the first authors of the paper. “A single step means the test can be potentially performed by non-experts outside of laboratory settings.”

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