Rapid, one-step mobile testing to detect COVID under 30 min

Rapid, one-step mobile testing to detect COVID under 30 min

Last Reviewed : 12/10/2020
Rapid, one-step mobile testing to detect COVID under 30 min

  • The rapid, one-step mobile test could help combat the pandemic and fully reopen communities
  • A CRISPR-based test for COVID-19 that uses a smartphone camera to provide accurate results in under 30 minutes

Current COVID-19 tests use a method called quantitative PCR -- the gold standard of testing. However, one of the issues with using this technique to test for SARS-CoV-2 is that it requires DNA. Coronavirus is an RNA virus, which means that to use the PCR approach, the viral RNA must first be converted to DNA. In addition, this technique relies on a two-step chemical reaction, including an amplification step to provide enough of the DNA to make it detectable. So, current tests typically need trained users, specialized reagents, and cumbersome lab equipment, which severely limits where testing can occur and causes delays in receiving results.

In this new test instead of the well-known CRISPR protein called Cas9, which recognizes and cleaves DNA, we used Cas13, which cleaves RNA. The Cas13 protein is combined with a reporter molecule that becomes fluorescent when cut, and then mixed with a patient sample from a nasal swab. The sample is placed in a device that attaches to a smartphone. If the sample contains RNA from SARS-CoV-2, Cas13 will be activated and will cut the reporter molecule, causing the emission of a fluorescent signal. Then, the smartphone camera, essentially converted into a microscope, can detect the fluorescence and report that a swab tested positive for the virus.

What really makes this test unique is that it uses a one-step reaction to directly test the viral RNA, as opposed to the two-step process in traditional PCR tests. The simpler chemistry, paired with the smartphone camera, cuts down detection time and doesn't require complex lab equipment. It also allows the test to yield quantitative measurements rather than simply a positive or negative result."

The device accurately detected a set of positive samples in under 5 minutes. For samples with a low viral load, the device required up to 30 minutes to distinguish it from a negative test.

Not only does the new CRISPR-based test offer a promising option for rapid testing, but by using a smartphone and avoiding the need for bulky lab equipment, it has the potential to become portable and eventually be made available for point-of-care or even at-home use. And, it could also be expanded to diagnose other respiratory viruses beyond SARS-CoV-2.

In addition, the high sensitivity of smartphone cameras, together with their connectivity, GPS, and data-processing capabilities, have made them attractive tools for diagnosing disease in low-resource regions.

Source: Gladstone Institutes.

Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Parinaz Fozouni, Sungmin Son, María Díaz de León Derby, Gavin J. Knott, Carley N. Gray, Michael V. D’Ambrosio, Chunyu Zhao, Neil A. Switz, G. Renuka Kumar, Stephanie I. Stephens, Daniela Boehm, Chia-Lin Tsou, Jeffrey Shu, Abdul Bhuiya, Max Armstrong, Andrew R. Harris, Pei-Yi Chen, Jeannette M. Osterloh, Anke Meyer-Franke, Bastian Joehnk, Keith Walcott, Anita Sil, Charles Langelier, Katherine S. Pollard, Emily D. Crawford, Andreas S. Puschnik, Maira Phelps, Amy Kistler, Joseph L. DeRisi, Jennifer A. Doudna, Daniel A. Fletcher, Melanie Ott. Amplification-free detection of SARS-CoV-2 with CRISPR-Cas13a and mobile phone microscopy. Cell, 2020; DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2020.12.001


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