New CRISPR Tool, SHERLOCK, Could Make Genetic Diagnosis Widely Available

The gene-editing tool CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) may soon function as an affordable diagnostic tool for detecting nucleic acids in disease-causing pathogens.

According to results published in Science, investigators were able to turn CRISPR technology – which allows researchers to edit genes by essentially “clipping” DNA – into an inexpensive diagnostic tool by using its virus-recognition properties to determine if someone’s blood, urine, saliva, or other bodily fluid contains genetic markers of a pathogen. In the new system, called SHERLOCK (Specific High Sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter UnLOCKing), samples are placed on a piece of glass fiber paper with the needed chemicals and can be modified to detect a variety of DNA targets, including cancer-causing genetic mutations.

The diagnostic test could cost as little as 61 cents, the authors noted. The lower cost suggests that the SHERLOCK tool could push CRISPR closer to being used as point-of-care detection.

Sources: Gootenberg JS, Abudayyeh OO, Lee JW, et al. Nucleic acid detection with CRISPR-Cas13a/C2c2. Science. 2017 April 13. [Epub ahead of print]; The Washington Post, April 13, 2017.