CRISPR-Powered Microfluidics Devices for Detecting SARS-CoV-2 and HIV

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Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) is rapidly gaining attention for its ease of use, accuracy, and lower cost. The gene-editing technology can be a powerful tool for the rapid detection of disease – and when combined with microfluidic devices, can create rapid and easy-to-use diagnostic tools.

During a talk at the Eastern Analytical Symposium (EAS) in Princeton, NJ on November 14, Changchun Liu, a professor in the department of biomedical engineering at the University of Connecticut, highlighted his team’s research into CRISPR-powered microfluidics devices for point of care treatment and detection of infectious diseases like SARS-CoV-2 and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

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Point-of-care testing (POCT) is becoming a more popular method of early screening for a variety of diseases and to address public health concerns like COVID-19. These tests are often performed directly at the bedside of the patient and must meet the ASSURED criteria, according to Liu. ASSURED stands for affordable, sensitive, specific, user-friendly, rapid, equipment free, and deliverable.

Currently, nucleic acid-based molecular diagnostics are one of the most sensitive and specific diagnostics approaches to specific nucleic acid sequences in clinical samples, he said. Both isothermal amplification and polymerase chain reaction and reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (PCR/RT-PCR) are two other popular methods for disease detection.


CRISPR biosensing technology is simple, rapid, robust, highly sensitive and ideal for point of care diagnostics. However, it does require multiple steps and manual operations, Liu said. Liu’s research group developed a microfluidic chip, or a lab-on-a-chip that integrates several laboratory functions onto a single chip to test for SARS-CoV-2. The team used a hand-warmer to heat the system without electricity. In total, testing took one hour, Liu said.

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To detect the presence of HIV, the team combined a low-cost glucose meter to be used with a bioinspired CRISPR-MCR (CRISPR-mediated cascade reaction) biosensor. The higher the level of HIV viral load, the higher the level of glucose in the concentration, Liu said.

While there’s still more research to be done in this space, Liu said the technologies show promise for finding more effective and easy ways to detect disease at the point of care.