If more transmissible variants of COVID-19 emerge, as they already did, it will become crucial to determine how quickly they spread and how many people they infect. The COVID test used today needs specialized equipment, and it must be run in a laboratory facility. As a consequence of that, waiting for the results could take up to two days. This might not longer be needed in the future.
A team of researchers from the University of California plans to make COVID testing as fast and accessible as possible. In order to achieve that, the scientists combined two kinds of CRISPR enzymes. The result can detect viral RNA in less than 60 minutes.
“You don’t need the sensitivity of PCR to basically catch and diagnose COVID-19 in the community, if the test’s convenient enough and fast enough. Our hope was to drive the biochemistry as far as possible to the point where you could imagine a very convenient format in a setting where you can get tested every day, say, at the entrance to work,” explained study co-author David Savage.
The team wanted a simple assay that also had high speed and sensitivity. “For point of care applications, you want to have a rapid response so that people can quickly know if they’re infected or not, before you get on a flight, for example, or go visit relatives,” explained research scientist Tina Liu.
The good news does not stop here. While researchers developed this new testing method for COVID, they believe the technique can be used for any kind of virus in the future. That can happen because CRISPR is programable, therefore this method is highly versatile. “This paper really establishes that this biochemistry is a simpler way to detect RNA and has the capability to detect that RNA in a sensitive and fast time frame that could be amenable for future applications in point of care diagnostics,” concluded Liu.