Scientists at the University of Florida have developed a simplified test for both hepatitis C and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, using artificial intelligence (AI) tools. The test occurs in one small test tube and takes only a few minutes, and with further refinement, it could become a reliable and easy-to-use home test, similar to a pregnancy test.
The team is working with a system called a one-pot reaction, which amplifies small portions of a virus’s genome using RT-LAMP technology and produces a visible signal when it detects the virus. The reading of these tests can be as simple as looking for a change in color or using a small device that detects a change in the test tube.
The researchers combined this technology with CRISPR to determine the difference between a false positive and a true positive. The team has been trying to bridge the gap between the temperatures required for these two systems, with RT-LAMP requiring 65.5 degrees Celsius and CRISPR working best at 37.7 degrees Celsius.
The team used AI tools to analyze a heat-loving species of bacteria and discovered a CRISPR enzyme that thrives at 60 degrees Celsius. By making four changes to the enzyme, the researchers found a way to make it work at 65.5 degrees, allowing them to combine both systems in a “true one-pot reaction” called SPLENDID.
The team verified the test on clinical samples from patients with hepatitis C or COVID-19, and it was found to be 97% accurate for SARS-CoV-2 and 95% accurate for the most prevalent version of the hepatitis C virus found globally. The team expects to improve its accuracy further with straightforward changes to the test.
Piyush Jain, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Florida, said, “We are trying to build a home-based test that is as reliable as a lab-based test. Our objective is to develop a simple test that eliminates the need for expensive equipment and provides results in just 10 to 20 minutes.” The researchers’ work has the potential to revolutionize at-home testing for these diseases, making testing more accessible and faster than ever before.