New startup promises ‘world’s first’ CRISPR-powered disease detection

Over the past few years, the gene-editing tool CRISPR has breathed new life into the field of genetics. Suddenly, genetic engineering was deemed both simple and efficient. CRISPR has been used to make specific tweaks to the genomes of myriad plants and animals, editing things like horns out of cattle and disease-resistance into crops.

Now, a startup called Mammoth Biosciences promises to offer unprecedented disease diagnostics, using CRISPR to detect biomarkers associated with practically any disease. Co-founded by Jennifer Doudna, one of the two researchers who first put the revolutionary tool on the map, Mammoth has branded itself as the world’s first CRISPR-powered diagnostic platform, offering high-tech disease detection via at-home tests.

The system will perform detection of any organism that contains DNA and RNA, according to the company, meaning every infectious disease (like STDs, influenza, and malaria) and even cancers can be targets.

“Similar to a search engine, our scientists enter a code into the guide RNA to find the matching nucleic acid (DNA or RNA) strand in the disease,” Mammoth CEO Trevor Martin told Digital Trends. “Once the code is found, instead of only snipping the strand of matched RNA or DNA like one would for editing, it also has a collateral effect on reporter molecules that release a color to visually show the presence of the disease.

“For an at-home test, our vision is to have these molecules present on a disposable, credit card-sized paper test strip, which will be able to detect multiple tests on one strip,” he added. “It’s as easy as taking an at-home pregnancy test. You simply add a liquid sample to the strip and use the Mammoth app to read out the result. You’ll receive the result in under an hour.”

If we’ve learned anything about diagnostics startups who make big promises, it’s to filter their claims through a healthy dose of skepticism. That said, if Mammoth’s ambitions hold true, it would mean huge changes in efficiency and productivity for fields like healthcare and agriculture.

Martin wouldn’t share specifics on how much these at-home tests would cost but he insisted that the system would be, “affordable and as simple as taking an at-home pregnancy test.”

He added, “Our vision is to democratize access and knowledge to your own health and make it more accessible, so affordability is a priority.”

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