Researchers at Halifax’s Dalhousie University have developed a remarkably inexpensive 3D-printed device for wastewater analysis that is gaining traction as a way to mainstream the manhole method of wastewater-based epidemiology sampling.
The device looks like a cross between a Wiffle Ball and a large fishing lure hanging from a line. It floats down inside a manhole, passively gathering samples of human wastewater for later collection and analysis.
The wastewater flowing out of buildings is collected and tested as part of a Halifax monitoring program launched earlier this year by Graham Gagnon and Amina Stoddart, researchers in Dalhousie’s Faculty of Engineering.
“Our lab has shared our research findings and sampling innovation with many national and international organizations,” says Gagnon, who is also the NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Water Quality and Treatment, director of Dalhousie’s Centre for Water Resource Studies and dean in the Faculty of Architecture and Planning.
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Emalie Hayes, a PhD student, also helped develop the device, which may cost as little as a dollar to print. It has since been shipped around the world to expand testing for SARS-CoV-2 and reveal its presence about 10 to 14 days before public health agencies detect it.
Earlier this year, the Dalhousie team received $851,730 in funding from Research Nova Scotia to expand the project to sites across the province.
The device has so far been sent to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, the government of the Northwest Territories and public health bodies in Ontario, as well as to researchers at Sorbonne University in Paris.
LuminUltra, a New Brunswick-based biotech firm, has since begun work on commercializing the Dalhousie team’s testing method, pitching it to Canadian and international markets as a “non-invasive” tool to gain insights into the health of large populations.
Researchers have begun to look at the wastewater testing device for other potential applications, including the detection of algal blooms or bacteria such as E. coli.