Wastewater testing is now a powerful tool for detecting and monitoring diseases like COVID-19 and will help limit the economic impacts of emerging infectious diseases in local communities. However, it’s much more challenging than regular COVID-19 testing. Life Magnetics, Inc. has developed a solution.
RNA is extremely fragile which is a problem for collection and transportation. Remember how during the COVID-19 pandemic widespread at-home PCR testing was never available? And the mRNA vaccines needed to be cold stored? RNA is simply difficult to transport. Dr. Conway, who manages wastewater testing at Central Michigan University, noted that when looking for viruses in wastewater, the signal degraded 10% for every 6 hours of transport and freezing the sample halved the signal. Existing testing processes need to handle samples delicately, it takes 18 hours in a cold room with precipitating agents to concentrate a sample which means that it normally takes several days to process a sample. The estimated cost for processing a sample is currently around $850, which is too much and takes too long. The process developed as a collaboration between Central Michigan University and Life Magnetics reduces process time to just 60 minutes and makes it not much harder than a regular COVID-19 test.
The focus might be on COVID-19 right now, but nearly every state in the US has at least one infectious disease that the CDC is worried about. In the south we have the Zika virus, in the north there are tick borne illnesses and Eastern Equine Encephalitis or EEE which can impact livestock.
Students at the Rotham School of Business in Toronto as part of the Creative Destruction Lab program interviewed over 60 labs and all of them indicated that they thought wastewater testing would be our go-to method for monitoring pandemics in the future. It will almost be like a weather report, warning communities of mosquito-born, tick-born, and viral diseases. Tracking will tell us when seasonal flu is making the rounds and when rarer, but dangerous diseases are present in the population such as foot in mouth disease.
How does the Graphene Coating Developed By Life Magnetics Help?
The graphene coating developed by Life Magnetics can pull out and stabilize RNA with just CaCl2 added. This is a harmless additive commonly found in food. To release the RNA, another additive, EDTA, which is also found in food as a preservative, is used. This simple collection and storage process allows for rapid processing of large volumes of water and is expected to drive down the cost of testing. With this process, we expect to drive down the cost of testing to less than $100 a test, which is the same as a typical COVID-19 test. Right now, only well funded communities have the facilities and expertise to accurately perform this testing, but this technology will allow nearly every city to accurately track diseases.