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MIT and Harvard use CRISPR to edit DNA gels for diagnostic devices

Date: 23.8.2019 

CRISPR is a powerful gene-editing tool that’s showing real promise in treating diseases like HIV, cancer, diabetes and a host of others. Now, new research from MIT and Harvard is showing how versatile this tool is, putting CRISPR’s genetic scissors to work in diagnostic tools and timed drug delivery systems.

Kredit: MIT.CRISPR works by using certain enzymes that bind to short RNA guides, directing them to cut DNA in precise parts of the genome. That allows the tool to snip out particular genes – such as those that may cause disease – and replace them with something more helpful.

But what if that basic mechanism – cutting DNA when a specific biological cue is detected – could be applied to something completely different? That’s exactly what the Harvard and MIT team set out to do.

The researchers created and tested a few prototypes along these lines. One type is a gel that can hold onto drug particles and only release them when a certain DNA trigger is around. Two others are diagnostic devices that use CRISPR to scan samples for biomarkers of disease, or the DNA of bacteria or viruses. In all three cases, the team used the enzyme Cas12a as the cutting mechanism.

One possible application for this is a gel that delivers engineered bacteria on demand in the gut to help treat gastrointestinal diseases.The team also created two diagnostic devices, one electronic and another microfluidic. In both cases, the device responds when a trigger sequence of DNA is detected. That means that the chips can be programmed to search for DNA from a particular virus, such as Ebola, in a blood sample.





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