Posted: Friday 19th April 2013

Epigem, a hi-tech British company, is a key member of the consortium that has secured €9million to help detect pathogens such as viruses, bacteria and parasites in drinking water. The AQUAVALENS consortium has brought together SMEs, universities and research institutes and the water supply industry, to collaborate to meet this challenge.

The consortium’s mission is to protect the health of European citizens from contaminated drinking water and water used in food processing. Around 330,000 cases of water-related disease such as E.coli and the norovirus are reported yearly in Europe according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The project will run for five years and its total value is €9m.

Tim Ryan, director of Epigem, said: “We are thrilled that our microsystems fabrication expertise will contribute to the global challenge of water safety. This is a very exciting project which will detect bacteria and viruses in water, and have an impact on prevention of food poisoning throughout Europe and beyond.

“The technical challenges are daunting, but I have no doubt that the Aquavalens consortium will overcome these challenges.”

The research will be led by Prof Paul Hunter from the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School. Prof Hunter said: “Although most European countries are fortunate to have some of the safest drinking water in the world, outbreaks of disease do still occur each year.

“Millions of Europeans drink water from very small supplies that are currently difficult to properly monitor and which have been shown to pose a risk – particularly to children who suffer the most from episodes of illness, with greater rates of hospitalization and higher mortality rates.

“With the technologies we currently have it can take two or more days to identify infectious risks in drinking water and by then the affected water is likely to have been consumed.

“This project will develop more rapid methods so that problems can be identified earlier. It will prevent people becoming sick by stopping them drinking contaminated water.”

Epigem will be applying its expertise to the challenging problem of water quality monitoring by developing microfluidic devices for multiplexed pathogen separation and detection. The project is funded by the European Union’s Framework Programme 7.

The work is divided into four main clusters of work packages that sequentially lead to the development of appropriate technologies:

1. Platform targets - the consortium shall generate new knowledge on the molecular genetics of viral, bacterial and parasitic waterborne pathogens. This will enable it to find gene targets for the identification and characterisation of these pathogens, that will also enable the determination of their virulence for humans.

2. Platform development - the consortium shall use the knowledge gained to develop new technologies that integrate sample preparation and detection into a single platform. These platforms will then be subject to a rigorous process of validation and standardisation.

3. Field studies in European drinking water systems - the consortium will use the validated platforms to undertake a series of field studies in large and small drinking water systems and in food production. These field studies will generate new knowledge about the risk to public health from waterborne pathogens in Europe and also test the value of the technologies in the field.

4. Improving Public Health through safer water - testing how these technologies can be used to protect human health, though improving the effectiveness of Water Safety Plans, adaptation to climate change, and control of outbreaks of infectious disease. The consortium will also determine the sustainability and potential economic impacts of these technologies.

For more information visit www.epigem.co.uk or www.aquavalens.org

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