The CRISPR/Cas technology can do more than alter genes a research team is using what known as gene scissors disease detection which scientists can use to edit genetic material to better diagnose diseases such as cancer.
In a study, the researchers introduce a microfluidic chip that recognizes small fragments of RNA, indicating a specific type of cancer more and than the techniques available up to now the gene scissors disease detection.
They also tested the CRISPR biosensor on blood samples taken from four children who had diagnosed with brain tumors.
Short molecules known as microRNA (miRNA) coded in the genome, but unlike other RNA sequences, they are not translated into proteins.
In some diseases, such as cancer or the neurodegenerative disease, Alzheimer’s, increased levels of miRNA can detected in the blood.
Doctors are already using miRNAs as a biomarker for certain types of cancer. Only the detection of a multitude of such signaling molecules allows an appropriate diagnosis. The researchers are now working on a version of the biosensor that recognizes up to eight different RNA markers .
The CRISPR biosensor works as follows: A drop of serum mixed with a reaction solution and dropped onto the sensor. If it contains the target RNA, this molecule binds with a protein complex in the solution and activates the gene scissors in a way like a key opening a door lock.
Thus activated, the CRISPR protein cuts off, or cleaves, the reporter RNAs that attached to signaling molecules, generating an electrical current.
The cleavage results in a reduction of the current signals which can measured and indicates if the miRNA that is being sought is present in the sample.
The biologists at Freiburg work together on these technologies with their colleagues from the engineering and materials sciences. That opens new, exciting routes to solutions.
The researchers are aiming to further develop the system in about five to ten years to become the first rapid test for diseases with established microRNA markers that can used right at the doctor’s office. The laboratory equipment must still become easier to handle.