Researchers Use CRISPR to Detect HPV and Zika Virus

CRISPR, a relatively new genome-editing technique that's short for "clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats," establishes itself once again as an important breakthrough for medical research. This time, tools based on the technique was used accurately identify HPV and Zika virus in human samples.

The technique first gained prominence when it was first used to greatly improve the results of CAR T-Cell therapy, so much that early tests have shown its potential to clear cancer off of terminal lymphoma patients.

Zika Virus
A transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of Zika virus, which is a member of the family Flaviviridae is seen in this undated image from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). |

A pair of new papers now demonstrates that CRISPR is capable of even more. A set of new powerful tools make testing for the presence of HPV, Zika or dengue virus possibly as simple as adding paper test strips to samples, a breakthrough that can revolutionize medical diagnosis and response to these viruses, as The Verge points out.

One of these papers was from a team led by CRISPR researcher Jennifer Doudna, and it describes how their new DETECTR system works to detect even varying strains and types of HPV virus. The research, which was published in the journal "Science," showed how accurate the new tools can identify the virus with no need to isolate them since the tests work with human samples already even at this stage.

Likewise, a similar paper from Feng Zhang, a CRISPR pioneer, and his team showed new improvements to an older system called SHERLOCK. This new system is now more versatile, having the ability to detect various viruses like Zika and dengue, and also covers bacterial pathogens as well.

Like DETECTR, the new and improved SHERLOCK also works well with human samples.

"It enables a new generation of diagnostics that may be more widely available and more cost effective than current technologies," Mitchell O'Connell, a biochemistry assistant professor at the University of Rochester, described the new breakthroughs.

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