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Emory University researchers awarded NIH grant to conduct COVID-19 surveillance through detection of SARS Coronavirus-2 in wastewater

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Catherine Morrow

A team of Emory researchers is partnering with Ceres Nanosciences on a $3 million project supported by a grant to Ceres from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to test wastewater for SARS-CoV-2. 

The study will focus on underserved and vulnerable populations around the Atlanta community where the burden of COVID-19 may be under-recognized. 

Using the Nanotrap® technology from Ceres Nanosciences (Ceres), a company based in Virginia that makes products to improve diagnostic testing, the Emory team will capture and concentrate the SARS-CoV-2 virus directly from sewage.

This allows rapid detection of the virus and can enable researchers to quickly inform municipal and public health authorities of the presence of the virus in specific geographic areas and trends in virus concentration that reflect trends in COVID-19 cases.

“The collaboration between Ceres and Emory will generate robust evidence to support the CDC’s objective of developing a national wastewater surveillance system to give city, county and state decision makers important temporal and spatial information on COVID-19 cases in underserved communities,” says Christine Moe, PhD, Eugene J. Gangarosa Chair in Safe Water and Sanitation at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University.

As principal investigator, Moe will be responsible for study design and implementation and will head the engagement with public health and community leaders.

Moe and Pengbo Liu, PhD, also in the Rollins School of Public Health, will co-lead the wastewater detection efforts. This study builds on their previous wastewater surveillance research on typhoid fever in Kolkata, India, COVID-19 in Accra, Ghana, COVID-19 on Emory University campuses, and an ongoing collaboration with the Atlanta Department of Watershed Management.

“We are excited to be partnering with Emory on this cutting-edge study. The Department of Watershed Management has played a large role in identifying sites, mapping sample locations, and collecting samples that allow for this joint partnership to progress,” stated Commissioner Mikita Browning. 

“Through this testing, we have the opportunity to focus resources on public outreach, such as locations for rapid testing, vaccine availability, and transportation for those in underserved communities within the City of Atlanta.”

From Emory University, Leda Bassit, PhD, will serve as co-principal investigator and lead for the SARS-CoV-2 infectivity studies in wastewater and fecal specimens from COVID-19 cases.

The multidisciplinary team includes researchers from Emory’s School of Medicine, including Raymond Schinazi, Anuradha Rao, Steven Bosinger, Nadine Rouphael and Colleen Kraft, as well as researchers from Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, including Anne Spaulding, Lance Waller and Yuke Wang.

This project has been funded in part by the NIH Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADxSM) initiative with federal funds from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, National Institutes of Health, Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, Department of Health and Human Services, under Contract No. 75N92021C00012. 

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