A team of international researchers from the UK, US and Germany, has built a new easy-to-use test that could diagnose non-infectious diseases like heart attacks and cancers more quickly.
The new test, called CrisprZyme, works by detecting molecular signals in the body called biomarkers, which are already used in things like Covid-19 testing where the presence of SARS-CoV-2 genes indicates Covid.
There are also biomarkers for non-infectious diseases: for example, prostate specific antigen (PSA) in the blood can sometimes act as a biomarker to indicate the presence of prostate cancer.
Diagnostic tests based on RNA or DNA often require controlled temperatures and involve multiple steps. The new test can be used at room temperature in a user-friendly process.
The researchers hope this could enable quicker and easier diagnostics in settings like GP surgeries, 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 personalised diagnostics at home or at the GP surgery,” said Dr Marta Broto, Department of Materials, Imperial University.
“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,” she added.
CrisprZyme builds on CRISPR diagnostic tests, which use RNA, the messenger that helps create proteins, to detect biomarkers in biological fluids like blood or urine.
CrisprZyme improves the technology by replacing 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, the team explained in the paper published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
“Following further development and testing in the lab, we hope this could help take us a step closer to personalised medicine whereby treatment is tailored more specifically to patients’ needs,” said Professor Molly Stevens FRS FREng, of Imperial’s Departments of Materials and Bioengineering.