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New Low-Cost 3D Printed Device Can Now Detect COVID-19 Variants in Your Spit

The device relies on CRISPR technology, is 3D printed and costs a mere $15.

Researchers at MIT and Harvard University have engineered a small tabletop device called Minimally Instrumented SHERLOCK (miSHERLOCK) that can detect SARS-CoV-2 from a saliva sample in about an hour and just as accurately as the PCR tests now in use. 

The device can also detect specific viral mutations linked to some of the SARS-CoV-2 variants currently in circulation.

“We demonstrated that our platform can be programmed to detect new variants that emerge, and that we could repurpose it quite quickly,” said in a statement James Collins, the Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering and Science in MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) and Department of Biological Engineering.

“In this study, we targeted the U.K., South African, and Brazilian variants, but you could readily adapt the diagnostic platform to address the Delta variant and other ones that are emerging.”

The device relies on CRISPR technology, is 3D printed, and costs a mere $15. Re-using the hardware brings the cost of individual assays down to $6 each and that price could also come down significantly if the devices were produced at large scale. 

“miSHERLOCK eliminates the need to transport patient samples to a centralized testing location and greatly simplifies the sample preparation steps, giving patients and doctors a faster, more accurate picture of individual and community health, which is critical during an evolving pandemic,” said co-first author Helena de Puig, a postdoctoral fellow at the Wyss Institute and MIT.

The researchers said they produced their new device to make testing easier, simpler, and more effective.

“Simple things that used to be ubiquitous in the hospital, like nasopharyngeal swabs, were suddenly hard to get, so routine sample processing procedures were disrupted, which is a big problem in a pandemic setting,” said co-first author Rose Lee who is also a visiting fellow at the Wyss Institute. “Our team’s motivation for this project was to eliminate these bottlenecks and provide accurate diagnostics for COVID-19 with less reliance on global supply chains, and also accurately detect the variants that were starting to emerge.”

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