CRISPR-based rapid detection technology could transform oral health

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CRISPR-based technology oral health
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Imagine going to the dentist for a cleaning, giving a sample of your saliva, and coming out of the appointment with comprehensive information on your oral health—your risk for cavities and gum disease—and on systemic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. This kind of diagnostic tool would revolutionise oral care, and provide early detection of disease without the pain, hassle, and cost of bloodwork.

Scientists from the US are working to make this point-of-care diagnostic experience a reality. The study by a team at the Forsyth Institute in Massachusetts—published in the Journal of Oral Microbiologydemonstrates the CRISPR-based technology can be adapted to detect specific oral pathogens in around 30 minutes. The technology could potentially transform the field.

“Targeted treatments are only possible when you know which bugs are in the mouth,” study lead Dr Batbileg Bor said.

“In any disease, we cannot begin to create effective treatments until we have diagnostics. Currently, available tests on the market are either low sensitivity or require analysis at an expensive centralised laboratory. It can take months to get the results. The studied detection tool solves both problems, featuring high-sensitivity, low-cost tests with rapid results.”

SHERLOCK is a CRISPR-Cas based molecular diagnostic platform, meaning that it can specifically and accurately target RNA and DNA molecules in a sequence-specific manner. The team adapted this technology to target 4 oral bacteria known to cause oral diseases, like periodontitis and cavities.

In the current study, the scientists included three bacteria that can be associated with various cancers, digestive diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and neurodegenerative diseases. The results show remarkable potential of the diagnostic tool to be modified to detect any biomarker from saliva, including inflammatory and cancer markers.

“The test is so sensitive it can detect as little as 10s of bacteria cells of a certain type from a sample that might contain around 200 species of bacteria commonly found in your mouth,” Dr Bor said. 

“We were able to target and detect specific bacteria in unprocessed saliva, meaning we could get this level of sensitivity and specificity without having to additionally process the saliva sample.”

Using this novel detection methodology, a person could simply spit in a tube and get highly accurate results in a very short time. This test could be performed in a dental office without any technical expertise.

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