New research has uncovered a potential new purpose for CRISPR, the controversial but revolutionary gene-editing tool. In a paper published this September in German Journal, Angewandte Chemie, researchers explain how CRISPR could be used to establish new diagnostic blood tests for detecting disease by identifying viral nucleic acids, such as Parvo or HPV.
Image Credits: Yurchanka Siarhei / Shutterstock.com
The findings are exciting because it could mean a robust, accurate, and cost-effective method entering the market to enable a faster diagnosis to an extended cohort of patients.
A new application for the revolutionary gene-editing tool
There has been no shortage of news articles surrounding the gene-editing tool, CRISPR, in recent years. Headlines have claimed it to be both a panacea for disease, as well as being a tool that will enable a dystopian future of tailor-made babies.
There has been excitement surrounding the potential disease curing capabilities as well as debates on the ethics surrounding its use have been commonplace in the scientific community.
Reports have claimed that the technique could play a fundamental role in the establishment of new and better methods for not only treating but eradicating illnesses such as cancer, sickle-cell anemia and other conditions with a genetic basis. Earlier this year, it was used in its first human trials in an attempt to develop a cure for an inherited form of blindness.
However, it was also claimed to have been used to genetical modify a set of twins in utero to make them resistance to contracting HIV in a study that generated a major ethical discussion.
The technology relies on a piece of genetic material known as guide RNA to lead the Cas9 enzyme to the desired part of the DNA sequence in order to cut it at the targeted section. This gives scientists the ability to remove genes, repair faulty ones, or add in new genes.
A new potential method for disease detection
Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have uncovered a new role for the CRISPR technique. They have suggested a new "universal biosensing" medical device that will not be dissimilar to the already available commercial blood-glucose sensor.
However, this device will accurately and rapidly detect the presence of viruses that play a key role in diseases, such as the human papillomavirus (HPV) or parvovirus (parvo). The first being a common virus that has been linked with the development of six kinds of cancer. The latter being responsible for fifth disease, a mild rash illness that mostly affects children.
To develop their new assay, the research team used the precision of the CRISPR technique in its ability to accurately locate and identify a target to recognize the biomarkers of those viruses. The method, known as E-CRISPR, utilizes a CRISPR‐Cas12a (cpf1) based electrochemical biosensor, which detects viral nucleic acids through optimizing its in vitro trans‐cleavage activity.
It is believed that this method could be further developed to create a new point-of-care device for detecting various viruses and diseases. The potential system is important because it would deliver a high level of accuracy, as well as being cost-effective, portable, fast, and would only require a drop of blood.
Currently, systems that detect HPV and Parvo take days to process, whereas the E-CRISPR could generate reliable results within the hour.
Future applications of CRISPR
The potential future development of a CRISPR based disease detection device is just one of many potential future applications for the gene-editing method.
Scientists are currently considering the development of the technique in creating allergy-free foods, in developing DNA ‘tape recorders’, producing biofuels, eradicating pests, raising the nutrient value of fish, and even bringing animals back from extinction.
Dai et al. (2019). Exploring the Trans‐Cleavage Activity of CRISPR‐Cas12a (cpf1) for the Development of a Universal Electrochemical Biosensor. A Journal of the German Chemical Society. DOI: 10.1002/anie.201910772