CRISPR Can Now Detect Diseases, Not Only Edit Genes


So far, CRISPR has been used to edit genes, but now it can also help diagnose patients. There are many tools that help doctors diagnose patients, but not all of them can quickly or accurately detect a disease, not to mention the high costs.

But co-inventor of CRISPR and researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, Jennifer Doudna, has launched a new company and she’s willing to use CRISPR technology to develop user-friendly kits and a smartphone app to detect disease in hospitals and at home.

The company is called Mammoth Biosciences, and they have just announced their intentions.

How Will It Work?

CRISPR can detect a piece of DNA and if used in combination with proteins, for example, Cas9, it can fix genetic defects and in the future even eradicate diseases. But its abilities are different when using other proteins. if it’s combined with Cas12 or Cas13, it can detect small parts of DNA that remained from a virus or it can detect mutations from cancer cells.

Besides Doudna’s research, there are two other groups at the MIT – led by Feng Zhang, and at Harvard University – led by Pardis Sabeti, working on the same application of CRISPR.

In February, both Doudna and Zhang have each published their own study in the journal Science. They explained how their tools will work.

Doudna has programmed her CRISPR tool to use Cas12 and detect and cut bits of HPV. She has also added a “reporter molecule” that will produce a fluorescent signal when it cuts. When that mixture was added to human cells in vials, only the ones infected by HPV started glowing. The reactions happen at a molecular level, but the fluorescent light helps observe it.

Zhang and his team could make their system detect two viruses in the same samples, and it worked for Zika and dengue.

The Cheapest Diagnosis Tool

The researchers at MIT stated that the CRISPR diagnostic tool could be created with only $2 per diagnosis test and it can be a reliable tool too. It will be a great device in poor countries that cannot use the expensive equipment. If the devices work on humans and it can detect disease, it could also be applied to farmers, to diagnose their cattle or even their crops!

But before that, Mammoth Biosciences will have to test their devices a lot to convince the FDA that the tools work, because diagnosis is very important, being the first step in saving humans’ lives. And at the moment, the diagnostics market all over the world is worth over $40 billion, so it might also be a threat to the competitors.


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