CRISPR-powered device promises 'bedside' DNA testing

April 08, 2019 //By Rich Pell
CRISPR-powered device promises 'bedside' DNA testing
Engineers at the UC Berkeley (Berkeley, CA) and the Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) of The Claremont Colleges (Claremont, CA) have combined CRISPR - a genome editing tool - with graphene transistors to create a hand-held device that can detect specific genetic mutations in a matter of minutes.

The device, dubbed CRISPR-Chip, could be used to rapidly diagnose genetic diseases or to evaluate the accuracy of gene-editing techniques, say the scientists. To demonstrate CRISPR-Chip's sensitivity, the researchers used the device to detect two common genetic mutations in blood samples from Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) patients.

"We have developed the first transistor that uses CRISPR to search your genome for potential mutations," says Kiana Aran, an assistant professor at KGI who conceived of the technology while a postdoctoral scholar at UC Berkeley. "You just put your purified DNA sample on the chip, allow CRISPR to do the search, and the graphene transistor reports the result of this search in minutes.”

Unlike most forms of genetic testing, say the researchers, CRISPR-Chip uses nanoelectronics to detect genetic mutations in DNA samples without first "amplifying" or replicating the DNA segment of interest millions of times over through a time- and equipment-intensive process called polymerase chain reaction (PCR). This means it could be used to perform genetic testing in a doctor's office or field work setting without having to send a sample off to a lab.

"CRISPR-Chip has the benefit that it is really point of care, it is one of the few things where you could really do it at the bedside if you had a good DNA sample," says Niren Murthy, professor of bioengineering at UC Berkeley and co-author of a paper on the project. "Ultimately, you just need to take a person's cells, extract the DNA and mix it with the CRISPR-Chip and you will be able to tell if a certain DNA sequence is there or not. That could potentially lead to a true bedside assay for DNA.”

The CRISPR - shorthand for "CRISPR-Cas9" - gene editing system gives researchers unprecedented gene-editing capabilities by being able to snip threads of DNA at precise locations. Cas9 (or "CRISPR-associated protein 9") acts as a pair of molecular "scissors" that can cut

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