Dartmouth-Hitchcock starts study of new Covid-19 testing kit

Sherlock technique is aimed to be faster than current procedures

Sherlock Biosciences, an engineering biology company based in Cambridge, Mass., and Lebanon-based Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health have announced they are collaborating on research involving a clinical study of Sherlock’s Covid-19 test kit.

The CRISPR-based test, which recently received Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, will be used to test clinical samples from patients from D-H member hospitals, officials said.

It is so far the only CRISPR-based diagnostic test to receive EUA from the FDA for qualitative detection of Covid-19, they said.

Dr Tsongalis 805x1024

There’s ‘a dire need for alternative testing methods,’ says Gregory J. Tsongalis, vice chair for research and director of the Laboratory for Clinical Genomics and Advanced Technology at D-H.

Because it uses the CRISPR family of DNA sequences, the test is designed to be a faster alternative to current testing protocols, said Gregory J. Tsongalis, vice chair for research and director of the Laboratory for Clinical Genomics and Advanced Technology at D-H.

The current tests – which predominately use a technique known as reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction, or RT-PCR – “have been a mainstay in testing for the global Covid-19 pandemic in the U.S. Unfortunately, the sheer volume of tests demanded by the pandemic, coupled with the dwindling supply of reagents and other consumables needed to conduct RT-PCR, has created a dire need for alternative testing methods,” Tsongalis said

Based on the SHERLOCK method, (Specific High-sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter unlocking, a CRISPR-based method to detect and quantify specific genetic sequences) the kit works by programming CRISPR to detect the presence of a specific genetic signature, in this case, the genetic signature for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. The tester can use a nasal swab, nasopharyngeal swab, oropharyngeal swab or bronchoalveolar lavage specimen.

When the virus is detected, the CRISPR enzyme is activated and cuts reporter RNAs provided as part of the kit to release a detectable signal. The result is that results are produced in about an hour, far less time than current RT-PCR tests, said William J. Blake, chief technology officer at Sherlock Biosciences.

Testing has begun at D-HH’s member hospitals, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in Lebanon, Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, New London Hospital and Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center in Windsor, Vt.

Results are expected in the coming weeks, Tsongalis said.  “We look forward to sharing preliminary results soon to assist those using or considering this novel technology to manage patients through the pandemic.”

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