A new £13 million Centre of Excellence in water-based health monitoring is to be established at the University of Bath following a major funding award.
The Centre of Excellence in Water-Based Early-Warning Systems for Health Protection, WBE@Bath, will develop a public health surveillance system to detect outbreaks of diseases by testing water systems for traces of pathogens or other biomarkers at a community level.
This could help prevent future pandemics from spreading by detecting them early, and will provide better understanding of chronic, non-communicable diseases such as diabetes.
An £8.4m investment has been announced this week by Research England, part of UK Research and Innovation.
The full cost of the project will total £13m, with contributions from the University of Bath and partners including Wessex Water, the UK Health Security Agency, Arup, the Environment Agency, the London Data Company, AWS, Waters and the Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Trust and Bath & North East Somerset Council.
As well as an ‘Urban Living Lab’, the centre will host state-of-the-art analytical capabilities including a digital water-sensing platform, training base and testing infrastructure designed to provide low-cost and real-time community-wide profiling of population health and the environment.
Five prize fellow positions and a doctoral training partnership will also be created through the project, increasing the skills and expertise base while diversifying talent.
Prof Barbara Kasprzyk-Hordern, a co-director of Bath’s Water Innovation Research Centre and a member of the University’s Institute for Sustainability, will lead the centre.
She said: “We’re delighted to have received this funding to expand the work of WBE@Bath as well as our capability to train and bring new talent into the sector.
“Covid-19 demonstrated how the successful management of disease outbreaks is critically dependent on real-time, cost-effective and comprehensive surveillance systems enabling testing of whole communities, irrespective of location.
“Our previous research has shown the transformative potential of using wastewater-based epidemiology to carry out this testing in locations such as water recycling centres. These techniques could give us a crucial tool in detecting future epidemics before they happen.
“We will build a unique, full-scale urban living lab that will enable testing of new approaches and tools aimed at better understanding of how diseases spread, the risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals and how to develop more effective interventions and management strategies.”
The project’s partner universities are Newcastle, Cardiff, Exeter, Glasgow, Stellenbosch (South Africa) and Lagos (Nigeria), and the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.
The funding is part of a £156m investment by Research England’s Expanding Excellence in England (E3) Fund, which will support 18 universities across England to expand their small, but outstanding research units.
Earlier this month, a new Centre of Doctoral Training designed to improve the health of the UK’s rivers and lakes, also to be led by Prof Kasprzyk-Hordern, was announced.