A credit card-sized tool could test for a wide range of infections and diseases.
(Credit: Mammoth Biosciences)

Biotech startup Mammoth Biosciences is currently working on a simple, portable test that would give everyone, from healthcare professionals to just people at home, the ability to detect various diseases quickly and easily. 

Co-founded by Jennifer Doudna, the test would use CRISPR to determine which bacteria, viruses or genetic mutations were present in a person’s blood, saliva or urine and a companion app would inform users about what was detected. 

“Imagine a world where you could test for the flu right from your living room and determine the exact strain you’ve been infected with, or rapidly screen for the early warning signs of cancer,” Mammoth CEO Trevor Martin said in a statement. “That’s what we’re aiming to do at Mammoth — bring affordable testing to everyone.”

The tech is still just in prototype phase, but research in the field is showing promising results. In a Science paper published earlier this year, Doudna and her lab demonstrated CRISPR’s ability to detect viral DNA. 

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Mammoth’s initial platform makes use of two CRISPR proteins, Cas12 — that binds and cuts DNA, and Cas13 — that recognises and cuts RNA. Together, the two proteins enable sensing virtually any type of nucleic acid. 

Feng Zhang at MIT who’s also credited with pioneering CRISPR technology is working on a similar test. Scientists over at the Broad Institute are developing a Cas13a-based system to test for Zika virus in blood, urine or saliva. The tool, known as SHERLOCK (Specific High-sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter unLOCKing), targets RNA rather than DNA and doesn’t stop at cutting its intended target. Instead, it also cuts RNA that happens to be nearby, which the scientists branded “collateral cleavage.”

As we all know, a CRISPR patent war has been going on between Dounda and Zhang for years. You can read more about that here.