CRISPR-Inspired Test Brings At-Home Diagnostics Closer to Reality

Image on the left courtesy of Science Photo Library / Alamy Stock Photo Image of a blood sample for cancer screening and a quote by a researcher about a newly developed test inspired by CRISPR technology
Imperial researchers have built a new easy-to-use test that could diagnose non-infectious diseases like heart disease and cancer more quickly.

A new molecular test could represent a big step forward in personalized diagnostics for non-infectious diseases like heart attacks and cancer.

Inspired by CRISPR technology, the new test, called CrisprZyme, was developed by a team of researchers led by Imperial College London, MIT, and Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin. The results of preliminary lab studies were recently published in Nature Nanotechnology.

The new test detects biomarkers in the blood for non-infectious diseases. But, unlike most molecular tests which often require controlled temperatures and involve multiple steps, the CrisprZyme test can be used at room temperature in a user-friendly process, the researchers said. This means it could enable quicker and easier diagnostics in settings like a physician's office, as well as in resource-limited clinics in developing countries.

"As well as potentially boosting access to diagnostics in developing countries, this technology could bring us a step closer to personalized diagnostics at home or at the GP surgery," said Marta Broto Aviles, a postdoctoral research associate in Imperial's department of materials and first author of the study. "By making clinical diagnostic tests simpler, we will be able to provide clinicians with the right tools to test at the same GP surgery instead of having to reschedule for follow-up analyses and blood tests.”

The CrisprZyme test builds on CRISPR diagnostic tests, which use RNA to detect biomarkers in biological fluids like blood or urine. In their current form, these tests detect RNA and then amplify this RNA by creating many copies so that the signal is easier to read.

However, these amplifying technologies must be temperature controlled to work, which requires expensive equipment. Additionally, although they tell doctors whether an infectious disease is present, they cannot provide information about how much biomarker is present, which is important for monitoring non-infectious diseases like heart disease and cancer.

For the CrisprZyme test, the researchers replaced the amplification process with colorimetric analysis – a method that determines the amount of biomarker present without the need for amplification. This eliminates the need for temperature control and additional steps, and can also reveal how much of a biomarker is present in a sample.

To eliminate the amplification step, the researchers used nanozymes – tiny synthetic materials that behave like enzymes. Their enzymatic-like activity increases the signal of the test making the colorimetric analysis easier to read. The team plans to continue developing the test by studying alternatives for sample treatment to make it even more user friendly.

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