2024-25 Project (O’Reilly & Staines)

Using Wastewater Based Epidemiology (WBE) to Support Public Health

SUPERVISORY TEAM

Supervisor

Dr Kathleen O’Reilly at LSHTM
Email: kathleen.oreilly@lshtm.ac.uk

Co-Supervisor

Dr Henry Staines at SGUL
Email: hstaines@sgul.ac.uk

PROJECT SUMMARY

Project Summary

Wastewater Based Epidemiology (WBE) has been in use to understand circulation of pathogens and other public health challenges for decades, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic WBE was rapidly expanded as part of the public health response in England. This included uses such as estimates of regional prevalence of infection and identify hotspots for incidence that were otherwise not detectable using clinical surveillance. There is now a real need to support a vision towards how WBE can be used for multiple pathogens in a variety of settings.    

In this PhD, the student will have a unique opportunity to work closely with within ongoing projects within the supervisory team and acquire experience in how scientific research is used to shape policy. Mathematical modelling will be developed to conceptualise the benefits and costs of wastewater surveillance across income settings for priority diseases. At SGUL there will also be the opportunity to learn and undertake elements of wastewater testing. In particular, the development of cost-effective, mobile testing will be investigated for use in low resource settings, including for use in LMICs. For this, the student will make use of a battery operated, PCR-based testing platform that can detect SARS-CoV-2 within 30 minutes, developed by an industrial collaborator.

Project Key Words

Data science, modelling, infectious diseases, PCR, molecular methods

MRC LID Themes

  • Global Health = Yes
  • Health Data Science = Yes
  • Infectious Disease = Yes
  • Translational and Implementation Research = Yes

Skills

MRC Core Skills

  • Quantitative skills = Yes
  • Interdisciplinary skills = Yes
  • Whole organism physiology = Yes

Skills we expect a student to develop/acquire whilst pursuing this project

In this interdisciplinary project the ideal candidate would develop skills in quantitative analysis (e.g. statistics and/or modelling) and laboratory experience (e.g. molecular biology).

Routes

Which route/s is this project available for?

  • 1+4 = Yes
  • +4 = Yes

Possible Master’s programme options identified by supervisory team for 1+4 applicants:

  • LSHTM – MSc Health Data Science

Full-time/Part-time Study

Is this project available for full-time study? Yes
Is this project available for part-time study? Yes

Eligibility/Requirements

Particular prior educational requirements for a student undertaking this project

  • LSHTM’s standard institutional eligibility criteria for doctoral study.
  • The ideal candidate would have some experience in quantitative skills and laboratory skills (e.g. processing and analysis of wastewater samples, using PCR assays).

Other useful information

  • Potential CASE conversion? = Yes

PROJECT IN MORE DETAIL

Scientific description of this research project

Wastewater Based Epidemiology (WBE) has been in use to understand circulation of pathogens and other public health challenges for decades, but in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic WBE was rapidly expanded as part of the public health response in England and internationally. This included uses such as estimates of regional prevalence of infection and identify hotspots for incidence that were otherwise not detectable using clinical surveillance. There is now a real need to support a vision towards how WBE can be used for multiple pathogens in a variety of settings.    

In this PhD, the student will have a unique opportunity to work closely with within several ongoing projects (located in England, South Africa and India) and acquire experience in how scientific research is used to shape policy. Mathematical modelling will be developed to conceptualise the benefits and costs of a wastewater surveillance across income settings for priority diseases. At SGUL there will also be the opportunity to learn and undertake elements of wastewater testing; data will soon be collected on other pathogens (norovirus, RSV, ‘flu, pathogens of pandemic potential) and indicators (AMR genes, pharmaceutical products). In particular, the development of cost-effective, mobile testing will be investigated for use in low resource settings, including for use in LMICs. For this, we have an established industrial SME collaborator, QuantuMDx, that has developed a battery operated, PCR-based testing platform that can detect SARS-CoV-2 within 30 minutes.    

Objectives: 
– To determine the benefits and costs of wastewater surveillance as a surveillance tool.  
– To investigate the feasibility of cost-effective mobile wastewater testing for pathogens and/or other health metrics 
– To gain experience within ongoing research projects and support the use of scientific research in policy development 

Confirmed availability of data / materials: 
– Access to WBE data collected throughout England during the COVID-19 pandemic and further data as it is collected in the future   

Potential risks: 
Current research programmes are funded for the next 2 years, after this time there it is anticipated that future funding will be obtained.

Further reading

(Relevant preprints and/or open access articles)

Additional information from the supervisory team

  • The supervisory team has provided a recording for prospective applicants who are interested in their project. This recording should be watched before any discussions begin with the supervisory team.
    O’Reilly-Staines Recording

MRC LID LINKS