A genetic modification technology CRISPR has been repurposed by US scientists to identify antibodies in blood samples of the patients in a move that could inspire a new class of medical diagnostics, particularly treating coronavirus.
Researchers at the Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, have named this technique ‘PICASSO’, short for peptide immobilization by Cas9-mediated self-organization.
By then applying a blood sample to the PICASSO micro-array, the proteins on the microchip that are recognised by patient antibodies can be identified by this technology, they said.
The customizable collections of proteins are involved in the technology which are attached to a variant of Cas9, the protein at the heart of CRISPR, that will bind to DNA but not cut it as it would when used for genetic modification. When these Cas9-fused proteins are applied to a microchip sporting thousands of unique DNA molecules out of which each protein within the mixture will self-assemble to the position on the chip containing its corresponding DNA sequence.
To detect antibodies binding to proteins resultant from pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2, from the blood of recovering coronavirus patients, the team used this technique in the following study. This technology works to gather thousands of different proteins, suggesting that it could be easily adapted as a broad-spectrum of medical diagnostic tool, for which they demonstrated that the technology works.
Dr Stephen Elledge at Harvard, “One of the most exciting aspects of this work is the demonstration of how CRISPR can be applied in an entirely new setting. Previously, CRISPR has been used primarily for gene editing and the detection of DNA or RNA. PICASSO brings the power of CRISPR into a new realm of protein studies, and the molecular self-assembly strategy we show may assist in developing new research and diagnostic tools.”
However, according to the researchers, CRISPR technology has the capability to be used as a medical diagnostic tool that could, one day, provide doctors with a way to quickly determine the diagnosis and best course of treatment for each individual patient.