Researchers develop a fast, accurate, low-cost COVID-19 test
August 27 , 2020
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The surging demand for rapid screening and identification of COVID-19 poses great diagnostic challenges. Metagenomic next-generation sequencing (mNGS) and reverse-transcription PCR (RT-PCR) have been the most commonly used molecular methods for diagnosing COVID-19, but each has its own limitations. For example, sequencing is costly and has a turnaround time of nearly one day, while RT-PCR requires specialized equipment and is difficult to deploy at a large scale. A lack of rapid and accurate molecular diagnostic tools has hampered efficient public health responses to the viral threat.

In the new study, the researchers developed an alternative COVID-19 test by leveraging CRISPR-based technology, which has been widely used in recent years for gene editing. The assay, named CRISPR-COVID, enables high-throughput detection of severe acute respiratory syndrome  2 (SARS-CoV-2) - the virus that causes COVID-19. CRISPR-COVID delivers comparable sensitivity and specificity as mNGS within as short as 40 minutes. When produced at a large scale, the material cost of a CRISPR-COVID test could be less than 70 cents, suggesting that CRISPR-COVID is a competitive alternative not only technologically but also financially.

The authors note, "In this study, we developed an isothermal, CRISPR-based diagnostic for COVID-19 with near single-copy sensitivity." and "We demonstrated a CRISPR-based assay for COVID-19 that offered shorter turn-around time and great diagnostic value, even in under-resourced settings without the need of thermal cyclers."

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