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Exploring the use of nano and quantum sensors for wastewater-based epidemiology

Home > New and events > Exploring Use Nano and Quantum Sensors Wastewater Based Epidemiology


The i-sense McKendry group team at UCL have been leading a project to develop novel near source Wastewater Based Epidemiology (WBE) sensors funded by the UK government.

This project led by Professor McKendry is in conjunction with a team at the School of Natural Sciences (Bangor University), led by Professor Davey Jones, leading expert in Environmental Science. Prof. Jones has expertise in understanding the behaviour and fate of microbial pathogens and Antimicrobial Resistance in wastewater systems and the use of WBE for public and environmental health surveillance. His research group provided research background and validation that was crucial to set up the UK national WBE-COVID-19 surveillance programme and currently leads the Welsh WBE programme for pathogens in the environment.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for early warning systems to inform rapid public health responses. WBE detecting of SARS-CoV-2 RNA fragments in wastewater has emerged as a powerful tool to track community transmission. This is an exciting prospect as this form of technology has the capability of identifying symptomatic and asymptomatic cases that shed the virus into the sewage system.

However, the gold-standard method of RT-PCR requires samples to be transported to centralised laboratories, and a lengthy sample preparation, sample concentration and RNA extraction protocol. This leads to delays in reporting and high costs which are not feasible in low-resource settings. Here, our team explored a rapid, low-cost method for near-source wastewater surveillance, exploring the application of advanced nano/quantum technologies for multiplexed viral detection in WBE samples for the first time.

Prof. McKendry said “We are really excited to explore the use of new ultra-sensitive nano and quantum materials for near source wastewater-based epidemiology. The recent detection of poliovirus in London sewers highlights the critical role of WBE in infectious disease surveillance of populations.”

Da Huang, a postdoctoral researcher in the McKendry group said, “Our sensing platform allows us to monitor the pathogenic information in wastewater right beside the sample collection points, giving rapid results and could in future overcome the need to send samples to centralised labs for PCR analysis.”

Results from this pilot project are being submitted for publication and lays the foundations for a much larger translational programme in future, to develop new sensing technologies which could have broad applicability to clinical diagnosis, animal health, food safety, agriculture, aquaculture and forensics. Stay up-to-date with the results and any publications from this project here on our website and on our Twitter page.