The Covid-19 pandemic has produced nothing but depression, anxiety, and more concerns about the future. However, recently the invention of this device brings new hope to people regarding better technology and enhanced methods to deal with these increasing variants.
A group of Engineers from MIT and Harvard University introduced a small tabletop device that can identify SARS-CoV-2 from a saliva sample in approximately an hour. The latest study confirmed that this detection is identical to the PCR tests currently in use.
Here is some good news to make your mood better: The device can also be used to identify particular viral mutations connected to the SARS-CoV-2 variants which are now spreading fast globally. The result can be given within an hour, enabling it a great tool to identify diverse variants of the virus, particularly in areas that don’t have access to genetic sequencing equipment.
The device depends on CRISPR technology and is priced at $15, but the cost can decrease once produced on a large scale.
How did the researchers design this?
The device made from SHERLOCK, a CRISPR-based tool was first reported in 2017. The components of the system comprise an RNA guide strand that enables detection of particular target RNA sequences and Cas enzymes that cut those sequences and generate a fluorescent signal. All of the molecular components can be freeze-dried and stored for a long time and reactivated by exposure to water.
Collins is the senior author in the study, and he started working on this device last year. To accomplish this, the research team had to include a crucial pre-processing step that disables enzymes termed salivary nucleases, which destroy nucleic acids such as RNA.
Once the saliva sample goes into the device, the nucleases are inactivated by heat and two chemical reagents. Next, viral RNA is removed and concentrated by transferring the saliva through a membrane.
The second part involves the RNA sample exposure to freeze-dried CRISPR/Cas components, which activate by the automatic puncturing of sealed water packets placed inside the device. This increases the RNA sample and then identifies the target RNA sequence if it’s present.
The device has four modules to detect the virus, and other ones such as B.1.1.7, P.1, and B.1.351 are particular to the mutated variants.
When this study was in the process of investigation, the Delta variant was not widespread. Thus, the researchers need to build a new module to detect that variant, but the system is ready and built to monitor for new mutations that could cause the virus more contagious.
Effectiveness against detecting variants
On top of the advanced tech device, the researchers also composed a smartphone app that reads the results and transfers them to public health departments for smoother tracking.
The researchers maintain that this device can be priced as low as $2 to $3 per device if it gets approved by the FDA to be manufactured on a large scale. This can enable people to get tested at home and in healthcare centers without leaving their house and spreading the virus.
This device can pave a great way for variants to be detected, and further research and module designs can equip it with the right technology and design to cater to the changing variants.
“The ability to detect and track these variants is essential to effective public health, but unfortunately, variants are currently diagnosed only by nucleic acid sequencing at specialized epidemiological centers that are scarce even in resource-rich nations.” another lead author concludes.
The research was funded by the Wyss Institute; the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group; the Harvard University Center for AIDS Research.
This article is attributed to Science Daily