Results of the STOPCovid test appear as a single or double line on a paper strip akin to a pregnancy test. In this photo, test strips showing a single line (left panel) indicate no infection. Test strips revealing double lines (right panel) indicate the presence of the virus | Credit: Abudayyeh-Gootenberg lab, McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT and Zhang lab, McGovern Institute/Broad Institute
New CRISPR-based research tool delivers results in an hour; researchers share protocol and kits to advance research and move toward clinical validation.
A team of researchers at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, the Ragon Institute, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has developed a new diagnostics platform called STOP (SHERLOCK Testing in One Pot). The test can be run in an hour as a single-step reaction with minimal handling, advancing the CRISPR-based SHERLOCK diagnostic technology closer to a point-of-care or at-home testing tool. The test has not been reviewed or approved by the FDA and is currently for research purposes only.
The team began developing tests for COVID-19 in January after learning about the emergence of a new virus which has challenged the health care system in China. The first version of the team’s SHERLOCK-based Covid-19 diagnostics system is already being used in hospitals in Thailand to help screen patients for Covid-19 infection.
The new test is named “STOPCovid” and is based on the STOP platform. In research, it has been shown to enable rapid, accurate, and highly sensitive detection of the Covid-19 virus SARS-CoV-2, with a simple protocol that requires minimal training and uses simple, readily available equipment, such as test tubes and water baths. STOPCovid has been validated in research settings using nasopharyngeal swabs from patients diagnosed with Covid-19. It has also been tested successfully in saliva samples to which SARS-CoV-2 RNA has been added as a proof of principle.
The team is posting the open protocol today on a new website called STOPCovid.science. It is being made openly available in line with the COVID-19 Technology Access Framework organized by Harvard University, MIT, and Stanford University. The framework sets a model by which critically important technologies that may help prevent, diagnose, or treat Covid-19 infections may be deployed for the greatest public benefit without delay.
There is an urgent need for widespread, accurate COVID-19 testing to rapidly detect new cases, ideally without the need for specialized lab equipment. Such testing would enable early detection of new infections and drive effective “test-trace-isolate” measures to quickly contain new outbreaks. However, current testing capacity is limited by a combination of requirements for complex procedures and laboratory instrumentation, and dependence on limited supplies. STOPCovid can be performed without RNA extraction, and while all patient tests have been performed with samples from nasopharyngeal swabs, preliminary experiments suggest that eventually swabs may not be necessary. Removing these barriers could help enable broad distribution.
“The ability to test for Covid-19 at home, or even in pharmacies or places of employment, could be a game-changer for getting people safely back to work and into their communities,” says Feng Zhang, a co-inventor of the CRISPR genome editing technology, an investigator at the McGovern Institute and HHMI, and a core member at the Broad Institute. “Creating a point-of-care tool is a critically important goal to allow timely decisions for protecting patients and those around them.”
To meet this need, Zhang, McGovern Fellows Omar Abudayyeh and Jonathan Gootenberg, and their colleagues initiated a push to develop STOPCovid. They are sharing their findings and packaging reagents so other research teams can rapidly follow up with additional testing or development. The group is also sharing data on the StopCOVID.science website and via a submitted preprint. The website is also a hub where the public can find the latest information on the team’s developments.
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Originally published by
Sabbi Lall | McGovern Institute for Brain Research
May 5, 2020