Scientists Collaborate on Tech-Led Covid-19 Innovations
Stimulated by new virus strains, Covid-19 infection rates are rising across the world and increasing demand for quick, accurate testing to help limit its spread. Scientists are leveraging cutting-edge technology and open-sourcing solutions to help curtail the pandemic – and apply learnings to other medical conditions.
- Exciting Edits: Gene-editing technology CRISPR is being used to develop at least two new Covid-19 tests. The tests, which can be taken at home with self-administered saliva or nasal swabs, are analysed via a smartphone-enabled microscope device, with results provided within 15 minutes. Current at-home solutions – like lateral flow tests – suffer from sensitivity issues. However, CRISPR technology amplifies the Covid-19 virus in saliva and nasal swab samples, allowing for accurate testing without laboratory assessment. These solutions could potentially relieve pressure on overstretched healthcare services.
- Open-Sourcing Covid-19 Response: In March 2020, international online science coalition Just One Giant Lab called for its followers to collaborate on solutions to the challenges posed by Covid-19. The organisation’s 380 members have developed open-source tests for the virus, global virus trackers and more accessible ways to make medical equipment, such as masks and ventilators. In the same month, amateur scientists in Sydney’s community lab Biofoundry announced they’d created a Covid-19 test kit, based on a copy of a (non-peer-reviewed) test developed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.
- mRNA Miracle: The success of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine has sparked intense interest in the messenger RNA (mRNA) technology that underpins it. As well as offering a rapidly customisable vaccine pathway to combat other viruses, it also has wider applications, such as delivering gene therapy to treat conditions such as sickle-cell anaemia. BioNTech has also developed FixVac, a cancer vaccine platform that’s currently in clinical trials for triple-negative breast cancer, metastatic melanoma and human papillomavirus (HPV)-related head and neck cancers.
For more innovations in biological science, look out for The Biohacking Boom, publishing January 13.