Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection can be cured with pan-genotypic direct-acting antiviral agents. However, identifying individuals with current hepatitis C remains a major challenge, especially in resource-limited settings where access to or availability of molecular tests is still limited. The goal of this study was to develop and validate a molecular assay for the rapid detection of HCV RNA in resource-limited settings. It is based on a combination of reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP) with the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats-CRISPR-associated protein 12a (CRISPR-Cas12a) cleavage assay that allows the recognition of specific HCV nucleic acid sequences. Amplified products after the cleavage reactions can be visualized on lateral flow strips or measured with a fluorescence detector. When tested on clinical samples from individuals infected with HCV, HIV, or HBV, or from healthy donors, the RT-LAMP-coupled CRISPR-Cas12 assay yielded 96% sensitivity, 100% specificity, and 97% agreement as compared to the reference method (Roche COBAS AmpliPrep/COBAS TaqMan HCV Test). This assay could detect HCV RNA concentrations as low as 10 ng/µL (an estimated 2.38 Log10 IU/mL). Therefore, this sensitive and specific assay may represent an affordable and reliable point-of-care test for the identification of individuals with active hepatitis C in low-resource settings.
Keywords: CRISPR–Cas12; HCV RNA; RT-LAMP; chronic hepatitis C; fluorescence-based assay; hepatitis C virus; lateral flow-based assay; point-of-care testing.