Could CRISPR Diagnostics Provide a Valuable Weapon in the Fight against Pandemic Flu?

May 21, 2019

The new diagnostic assay format could provide a means of performing low-cost tests for particular strains of flu at the point of care, but there are challenges to address.

The flu season is up and running in the Northern Hemisphere, and early signs in both the United States and Europe are that the effects might not be quite as severe as the brutal 2017/18 season. The United States is predominantly seeing H1N1 circulating, while monitoring in Europe has identified co-circulation of H1N1 and H3N2—both varieties of Influenza A that should be covered by the seasonable vaccine. What if they weren’t though? Influenza A can be found in both human and animal populations, and it evolves rapidly through genetic mutation. Each year many humans rely on their country’s vaccination program, which is based on scientists’ best guesses as to the likely flu strains the population might encounter that winter. But vaccinations might not protect patients against a new and unexpected strain. Should one emerge, the race will be on to identify the strain, where it has come from, whether it has been seen before, and whether it can be contained. A new diagnostic assay format, CRISPR diagnostics, might provide a means of performing low-cost tests for particular strains of flu at the point of care. In this article, we consider the outstanding challenges that academics and industry must address before the test format could replace conventional nucleic acid testing and other test methods involved in containment of pandemics.

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