Research News Spring 2017 Issue 41

Research News

A CRISPR-associated enzyme called Cas13a is at the heart of a new diagnostic method called SHERLOCK. Image: Broad Institute
A CRISPR-associated enzyme called Cas13a is at the heart of a new diagnostic method called SHERLOCK. Image: Broad Institute

Feng Zhang, along with collaborators at the Broad Institute, the McGovern Institute, the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science at MIT, and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard, has adapted a CRISPR protein that targets RNA (rather than DNA), for use as a rapid, inexpensive and sensitive diagnostic tool for the detection of Zika virus and other pathogens. The new method, called SHERLOCK, can be delivered as a paper-based test and could have wide-ranging implications for public health, including the management of disease outbreaks in rural settings that lack infrastructure for laboratory-based testing. Read the full story >>

Ann Graybiel has collaborated with MIT bioengineers Michael Cima and Robert Langer to develop a new device for measuring the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is involved in brain responses to reward and which is disrupted in Parkinson’s disease and many other disorders. The method involves an array of tiny carbon electrodes, which can measure the distribution of dopamine with great precision. The researchers have used the device to track dopamine levels in the rat striatum, a structure that in humans is an important target for Parkinson’s therapy. Read the full story >>

Another approach to measuring dopamine has been developed by Ed Boyden in collaboration with MIT chemist Michael Strano. Strano previously showed that single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) can be converted into fluorescent sensors by wrapping them in DNA or other polymers. Working with Boyden, Strano has now developed a SWCNT-based sensor that serves as a sensitive indicator of dopamine. Although not yet tested in intact brain, the new sensor makes it possible to image dopamine release from cultured neurons with very high spatial and temporal resolution. Read the full story >>

Bob Horvitz, along with postdoc Shuo Luo, examined the genetic mechanisms by which nerve cells can arise from muscle. Most neurons are formed during development from the ectoderm, the outer layer of the embryo, but in some species, including nematode worms, neurons can also arise from muscle. Understanding how this happens will allow researchers to ask whether similar mechanisms exist in mammals, and may also enable new ways to generate neural stem cells artificially for regenerative medicine.

Gloria Choi collaborated with Polina Anikeeva, a materials scientist at MIT, to test a new design of flexible polymer probes for recording and manipulating brain activity. The multifunctional probes, developed in Anikeeva’s lab, include channels for delivery of viral vectors or drugs; optical waveguides for optogenetic stimulation; and electrode channels for recording electrical activity. Read the full story >>

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