CMU-Q students develop CRISPR test for carriers of sickle cell anemia
An interdisciplinary team from Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar (CMU-Q) has developed a rapid, inexpensive test using CRISPR technology to screen for carriers of the blood disorder, sickle cell anemia. The team will present their project at the International Genetically Engineered Machine (IGEM) competition in Cambridge, Massachusetts later in October.
CRISPR technology is a tool for editing genomes that has promising applications in the prevention and treatment of disease. The CMU-Q team is taking a novel approach by using CRISPR as a screening tool for carriers of sickle cell anemia, one of the most common severe monogenic disorders in the world.
“We’re very excited about this project, especially because this is such a new area of study,” said Dina Altarawneh, the IGEM student team leader. “Gene sequencing is expensive and time-consuming, but our method takes 30 minutes and could be done almost anywhere.”
Using a saliva sample as the DNA source, the CRISPR molecule will bind only to DNA strands that contain the mutation for sickle cell anemia. If the mutated gene is present, the CRISPR molecule will cause the sample to fluoresce. The team has built a small robotic device to detect the fluorescence, as well as a smartphone app to interpret the results.
The IGEM team is made up of students from four different programs at CMU-Q: Dina Altarawneh, Sakina Amir, Sondoss Amir, Joana Khatib, and Aya Nour from the Biological Sciences Program; Raghid Bsat from the Computational Biology Program; Kaan Aksoy and Maimoon Siddiqui from the Computer Science Program, and Haya Al-Kuwari, Maryam Amir, Mosammat Samiha and Mohammad Shahmeer from the Information Systems Program. The faculty advisors are CMU-Q’s Annette Vincent, associate teaching professor of biological sciences, and Cheryl Telmer, a research biologist at Carnegie Mellon’s Pittsburgh campus.
Altarawneh was also part of the team that was awarded Bronze Achievement at the 2017 IGEM competition. IGEM is the largest synthetic biology community and the premiere synthetic biology competition for both university and high school level students. The competition began at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2004 with only five teams participating. It has now expanded to more than 310 teams from around the world.