Sherlock Holmes: On the Trail of Coronavirus

By Shlomo Maital

   Why didn’t we think of it sooner? Let’s enlist the famous detective Sherlock Holmes to track down the coronavirus. I know – he’s a fictional character, invented by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But wait – Sherlock is real!

   Not exactly the London sleuth. But Sherlock Biosciences, the hi-tech company specializing in CRISP-R technology in diagnostics. Sherlock Biosciences has a test for COVID-19 that is fast, accurate – and may be a game-changer.

The Sherlock™ CRISPR SARS-CoV-2 kit  is the first US FDA emergency use authorization (EUA) CRISPR-based diagnostic test intended for the qualitative detection of nucleic acid from SARS-CoV-2.

   So – first, what is CRISP-R? It’s a technique for editing genes – using an amazing enzyme, CRISP-R snips a specific gene out of DNA – in order to study it, or replace it or repair it or detect it.

     Sherlock’s founders gathered their team together, early in the pandemic, and told them, Pivot! (change direction). Can we use our technology, used to diagnose a variety of afflictions, to test for COVID-19?   And literally, physically, the scientists pivoted – swiveled their chairs, turned to their computers – and went to work.

   And they succeeded!

   Here is how it works. CRISP-R snips out a piece of the Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) from the coronavirus swab, if that RNA exists. The technology then identifies the presence of that RNA and signals that the test is positive – yes, the patient does have the coronavirus. It first multiplies the snippet of RNA, so there is a lot of it – and then tests for its nature.

   There is a huge problem with current COVID-19 tests. They take a very very long time to produce the results, as labs are over-burdened, and many have excessively large false positive and false negative. False positive is unpleasant – false negative is downright dangerous, leaving people to walk around and spread the virus, unwittingly.

     Sherlock is a Cambridge MA based bioscience company, linked to MIT. I hope they will willingly and rapidly share their technology widely, so that the world – waiting for a vaccine – will at least be able to test instantly and accurately whether people are ill..