New CRISPR-Based Test Detects Mpox Faster

A rare viral illness called mpox, formerly known as monkeypox, is transmitted by direct physical contact between individuals.

New CRISPR-Based Test Detects Mpox Faster
CRISPR is combined with nanopore sensing technology to detect whether or not mpox is present in a sample. Image Credit: Md. Ahasan Ahamed.

At the moment, testing for mpox necessitates lab equipment and results can be obtained in a few hours. However, recent findings point to a quicker testing method that could soon be available in any clinic.

Md. Ahasan Ahamed, a graduate student at Pennsylvania State University under the guidance of Weihua Guan, will present this work at the 68th Biophysical Society Annual Meeting, which will take place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Even though fever, rash, and swollen lymph nodes are the typical mild symptoms of mpox, severe cases can happen and necessitate medical attention. Testing is necessary because the disease is contagious, allowing those who have it to either receive the proper medical care or isolate themselves until their symptoms subside.

The researchers employed CRISPR, the gene editing technology that won the Nobel Prize, to create a quicker test. Since 2017, researchers have used CRISPR technology for purposes other than gene editing, such as molecular diagnostics.

Ahamed developed a genetic sequence and reporter specifically designed to target the mpox virus for this study. Next, a protein known as Cas12a and a programmable CRISPR RNA attach to the target and each other, cleaving the reporter into fragments of different sizes.

The fragments of those reporters can then be analyzed by the researchers using nanopore sensing technology, offering a quick and precise test to determine whether or not mpox is present in the sample.

When the team tested samples of the cowpox virus, a close relative of mpox, the test did not yield a positive result, confirming that the test they developed is unique to mpox.

The whole process is quick, in total it takes 32 to 55 minutes to detect the target, depending on viral load, which is much faster than it currently takes to test for mpox in a lab using PCR method.”

Md. Ahasan Ahamed, Graduate Student, Pennsylvania State University

With the use of a portable device, the researchers hope to develop tests for additional pathogens using this nanopore technology, which will enable the testing of a single sample for several targets. Although the technology is not yet offered for sale, Ahamed is optimistic that a gadget that could enable widespread access to this type of pathogen testing will soon be developed.

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