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When SARS-CoV-2 was discovered, numerous researchers focused on investigating this novel virus and the disease it caused.
FREMONT, CA: CRISPR researchers were no exception, and the gene-editing technique was quickly thrust into the forefront of the global struggle against COVID-19. The CRISPR—Cas system is based on a naturally existing bacterial gene-editing mechanism that plays a critical role in the prokaryotic defense against viral infection. The issue for researchers now is to determine the optimal way to leverage its inherent potential and enhance it for human benefit.
Here, scientists have indeed risen to the challenge, successfully developing quick diagnostic tests for COVID-19 and obtaining their first US FDA (MD, USA) approval. The research continues as similar tests are being designed for wider clinical use, with numerous businesses vying to fill the ever-widening market gap created by reagents for PCR-based COVID-19 tests running out and testing capacity reducing. Scientists have investigated CRISPR as a possible treatment in other fields, harnessing its tailored enzymatic activity to degrade SARS-CoV-2 RNA and limit viral replication.
CRISPR has been successfully used to combat COVID-19, but what role does it contain in this and future pandemics?
CRISPR-based diagnostics for targeted detection
Testing has been a critical component of many countries' COVID-19 response programs,
with PCR-based testing assuming the role of gold standard diagnostic assays. However, a lengthy wait for findings, a labor-intensive technique, and a rapidly depleting supply of reagents have prompted many to seek alternative testing methods. To keep up with the mass testing techniques that many experts believe are necessary to stop the virus's spread, the development of a quick, at-home diagnostic test may help reverse the tide on the world's ever-growing case count. Many have turned to CRISPR for this purpose, as its ability to target nucleotides makes it ideal for identifying the presence of viral RNA.
The CRISPR SARS-CoV-2 test kit has been granted Emergency Use Authorization by the federal government, allowing it to be utilized in qualified laboratories to test for SARS-CoV-2. The COVID-19 test kit works by training the CRISPR system to detect the SARS-CoV-2 genetic signature using complementary gRNA to a specific region of the viral genome. When a target region is discovered in a sample, the CRISPR system is triggered, releasing a detectable signal — in this example, a fluorescent marker.
While the technology is exciting, CRISPR-based diagnostics are now only available in the laboratory. The true challenge now is to develop a point-of-care testing system capable of performing quick and accurate tests in any situation.