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Instrument-Free, Handheld Diagnostic Test for SARS-CoV-2 to Provide Smartphone-Read Electrochemical Readout

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 17 Dec 2020
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Image: The INSPECTR™ technology (formerly known as DROP), enables highly sensitive molecular diagnostic tests to be performed at room temperature and without the need for lab equipment (Photo courtesy of Wyss Institute at Harvard University.)
Image: The INSPECTR™ technology (formerly known as DROP), enables highly sensitive molecular diagnostic tests to be performed at room temperature and without the need for lab equipment (Photo courtesy of Wyss Institute at Harvard University.)
An instrument-free, synthetic biology-based molecular diagnostics platform could be adapted to work on a simple paper strip COVID-19 test or to provide an electrochemical readout that can be read with a mobile phone.

The INSPECTR technology (formerly known as DROP) from Sherlock Biosciences (Cambridge, MA, USA) uses synthetic biology to enable the creation of instrument-free diagnostic tests that can be conducted at home, at room temperature. INSPECTR, which stands for Internal Splint-Pairing Expression Cassette Translation Reaction, consists of a DNA hybridization-based sensor that can be easily programmed to detect target nucleic acids (DNA or RNA) with single base pair specificity, coupled with a paper-based synthetic gene network that translates the sensor’s detection into a bioluminescent signal that is easily visualized or captured on instant film. Crucially, this process can be done at room temperature and does not require any instrumentation, unlike other currently available methods. By decentralizing testing, INSPECTR has the potential to dramatically change health outcomes for people all over the world, mitigating the spread of disease and helping patients make vital health decisions sooner. Sherlock has now received a grant of USD 5 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to continue to advance INSPECTR.

“In addition to advancing our INSPECTR platform development to be as sensitive as gold-standard PCR tests, the funding will support our development of an over-the-counter disposable product, similar to an at-home pregnancy test, that can be used to detect SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Pending approval, we are on track to launch this product in mid-2021,” said William J. Blake, chief technology officer of Sherlock Biosicences.

“By creating the very first diagnostic tests that do not require complex instruments and can be deployed anywhere, especially in low-resource settings, Sherlock is poised to make a wide-ranging and powerful impact on health outcomes,” said James J. Collins, co-founder and board member of Sherlock Biosciences and Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering and Science for MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) and Department of Biological Engineering. “We are delighted by the support of the Gates Foundation to develop these tests, which we believe will contribute to earlier disease detection, faster intervention and the elimination of epidemics worldwide.”

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