Wastewater surveillance of SARS-COV2 to enable real-time clinical case-finding in Calgary

Parkins, Michael D | $505,310

Alberta The University of Calgary 2020 CIHR Operating Grant

We propose to track SARS-COV2 in the wastewater (WW; i.e., sewage) in Calgary, Alberta. The SARS-COV2 virus is excreted in the poop of infected individuals – often before symptoms start. These viruses are no longer infectious, but their genetic material (RNA genomes) can be detected in wastewater samples using molecular biology techniques for RNA quantification. This project will create a pathway enabling mobilized testing of the WW network throughout Calgary. Our project will achieve 3 objectives: 1 develop procedures to collect and analyse SARS-COV2 genetic material in WW samples from regionally diverse parts of Calgary, 2 develop different molecular assays that complement each other and are resilient to the WW chemical matrix, 3 develop genomics and bioinformatics methods for identifying genetic variants of SARS-COV2 in Calgary WW thereby enhancing epidemiological tracking. In Stage 1 we will develop and validate assays with samples from Calgary’s three WW treatment plants, accounting for variability in WW chemistry and its effect on molecular biology methods. In Stage 2 we will work closely with Alberta Health Services and City engineers to apply the assays on WW from areas with known active COVID‑19 cases to demonstrate proof of principle. In stage 3 we will deploy in real-time sampling teams through the city to collect samples for monitoring new areas where infections are not known to exist, allowing AHS to proactively find and respond to infected people without symptoms. Our team involves AHS, the City of Calgary, engineers, microbiologists, clinicians/public health experts, and University deans from Science, Engineering and Medicine. We will provide real-time, actionable information on SARS-COV2 in Calgary enabling public health officials to perform regionalized case-finding and develop strategies that focus containment efforts in the areas most affected, while minimizing the collateral social and economic consequences of needed public health interventions.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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