In a pilot project to explore ways to monitor COVID-19, UB scientists simultaneously hunted drugs and viral RNA in wastewater in western New York.
The results of their study, published May 18 in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters, suggest that measuring the concentration of drugs in wastewater could add another layer to disease surveillance efforts.
Henry M., Director of the UB Renew Institute and the College of Chemistry of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Around the world, wastewater-based disease surveillance is being done by monitoring viral RNA,” says lead scientist Diana Agha, the Woodburn professor. “The potential to complement existing drug detection efforts is exciting. There are many opportunities here, although more research is needed.”
An interesting finding from the new study concerns acetaminophen, a pain reliever and fever reducer that acts as an active ingredient in over-the-counter medications like Tylenol, Theraflu, and other brands.
At all four wastewater treatment plants involved in the project, research revealed that acetaminophen concentrations in effluent increased ahead of other measures against COVID-19 in the community in early 2021, including levels of viral RNA of COVID-19 in effluent and an estimated number of confirmations . Cases of Covid 19.
At the Bird Island wastewater treatment plant, which serves Buffalo and some surrounding suburbs, acetaminophen concentrations in wastewater rose about two weeks earlier than SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentrations in wastewater. Scientists say the surge in viral RNA came about a week before the estimated number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 rose.
“Our main finding is that the concentration of acetaminophen used in over-the-counter medicines increased dramatically during the study period to maximize viral RNA in the effluent and clinic in our area. occurs before the peak of incarceration,” says Agha.
“This was very interesting because it suggests that drug detection can serve as an early warning of potential disease outbreaks in a community,” says Agha. “Our group is one of the first to detect SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater containing medicinal products.”
The research, conducted over several months in 2021, was funded by the US National Science Foundation and the SUNY Prepare Innovation and Internship Program, which aims to inspire students to create solutions to challenges related to the pandemic. Lahiruni M. Halwatura, a graduate student in Agha’s lab, was the first author of the study.
Sewage data is becoming an important part of COVID-19 surveillance as home testing becomes more popular and not many positive cases are reported.
During the pandemic, UB Engineering researchers Ian M. Bradley and Yinyin Ye are working with partners like Erie County to monitor COVID-19 viral RNA in wastewater.
The new study in Environmental Science and Technology Letters is exciting because it suggests drug tracing could add another layer to these efforts, Bradley and Ye say. His labs contributed data to the research and he is a co-author.
Paracetamol isn’t a perfect substitute for COVID-19: People take the drug to treat many types of pain and fever, and some fluctuations in the drug in wastewater during the study period were unrelated to viral RNA data.
However, the surge in acetaminophen, which appeared to coincide with the local COVID-19 surge, was large, and the finding points to the use of over-the-counter drugs as a possible early sign of a possible outbreak. Shows, the researchers say.
“What is really exciting is that there is so much information in the wastewater. How can we use this to track disease for public health? All of this data is complementary,” said Bradley, assistant professor of civil, civil and environmental engineering. Says. School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and a core faculty member at the UB Renewal Institute.
“We’re focused on the public health wastewater study and want to see if we can integrate more data to get an idea of what’s happening in the community,” says Yeh, civil, structural and assistant professor of environmental engineering. and renewable faculty staff. “We can extract information from wastewater, but there are still many unknowns about how to interpret the public health data. We don’t just want to test biological markers, but also chemical markers and all kinds of information. would also like to test the different layers of the
In addition to identifying acetaminophen spikes, the study found residues of epidemic drugs in the wastewater, including drugs whose emergency use authorization to treat COVID-19 was revoked by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. has gone.
Other co-authors on the study are Isabella S. McLaren, a recent graduate student in Bradley’s lab; In Agha’s lab, recent graduate student Daniel L. Weglarsky; and Xia Yu. Ahmed, Database/Visualization Specialist at UB Innovation Institute.