Genome BC launches SAFEGUARD to expand wastewater surveillance

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Researchers obtain wastewater samples at site
Genome BC has generated more than $1.3 billion to invest in more than 520 genomics research and innovation projects, including over 1,200 collaborations with partners across BC and internationally. Photo Credit: Genome BC

British Columbia is looking to expand its wastewater surveillance with a new initiative designed to better prepare the province for future public health challenges.

Dubbed SAFEGUARD by Genome BC and Genome Canada, the new project will utilize federal and provincial funding to connect a wide range of experts and target a wide range of respiratory pathogens beyond SARS-CoV-2, which propelled wastewater surveillance to mainstream levels.

The new three-year pilot project monitoring will integrate genomic data with epidemiological information, enabling advanced statistical modelling to guide crucial public health decision-making, explains Genome BC.

“Genomics was a key tool for surveillance during the pandemic and will continue to be crucial in understanding future public health trends,” announced Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer for BC, in a statement. “By leveraging the power of this technology, we aim to provide earlier detection, more precise data, and improved public health strategies for a range of pathogens, all things essential to providing effective, evidence-based public health guidance.”

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The wastewater surveillance initiative will connect experts from the BC Centre for Disease Control, the University of British Columbia, the BC Provincial Health Officer, the BC Ministry of Health, and the National Microbiology Laboratory. 

Dr. Natalie Prystajecky, program head for the Environmental Microbiology program at the BC Centre for Disease Control’s Public Health Laboratory, said that SAFEGUARD will help to address the “immediate challenge of characterizing circulating respiratory viruses at the community scale, which is so important at this time of year.” 

The pilot project is also expected to develop a wastewater preparedness toolkit for emerging threats across Canada. The toolkit will guide method validation, laboratory and analytical training, data interpretation and provide resources to put the research findings into practical use, according to Genome Canada.

Over some 23 years, Genome BC has generated more than $1.3 billion to invest in more than 520 genomics research and innovation projects, including over 1,200 collaborations with partners across BC and internationally. 

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  1. As a former manager of a wastewater treatment facility, I often wondered why operators at such plants didn’t appear the be overcome by pathogens in the aerosols over AS aeration tanks, which no doubt had most every disease know to man. When I questioned occupational health folks and medical officers of health they too showed no no concerns.

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