Water Supply

Health Protection Through Safer Water

Today, it still takes a few days to analyse viruses, bacteria and parasites in drinking water. The transnational and interdisciplinary research project “Aquavalens” shall change this.

Even though most European countries have drinking water of better quality than the rest of the world, they are not spared the yearly outbreak of water-borne diseases. The World Health Organisation (WHO) counts approximately 300,000 individual cases every year, for which mainly intestinal pathogens like norovirus pathogens or parasites are to blame. In the years between 2000 and 2007, 354 outbreaks of water-borne diseases in 14 European states were recorded. The typical symptoms of disease are diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, headache, and fever.

“Aquavalens”, a transnational, interdisciplinary research project led by the University of East Anglia (Great Britain), seeks to build a better understanding of these pathogens and to facilitate a faster, more comprehensive and smarter detection of faecal indicators and pathogens in water through the development of new molecular processes. These processes shall be advanced to commercial stage and for the first time cover the entire range from molecular faecal indication via source tracking to targeted evidence of pathogens. 

39 partners from 13 European countries

The project syndicate, which comprises 39 partners, is conducting field research projects in large and small water utilities as well as food-processing companies all over Europe, where the new technologies are concurrently tested. Aquavalens also views itself as a platform where the accomplishments achieved are shared with others. The 8.9-million-euro research project, which was launched in February this year, spans a period of five years and is funded under the umbrella of the 7th EU Framework Programme.

Beneficiaries of the relevant research results are, apart from the mentioned sectors, also EU institutions concerned with drinking water issues, the International Water Association (IWA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Austria provides essential input

Project partners are universities, research institutions, water utilities and medium-sized biotechnology companies from 13 European countries. Austria is represented in the project syndicate by the Interuniversity Cooperation Center Water & Health (ICC Water & Health), which is a cooperation project between the Medical University of Vienna (Regina Sommer and Alexander Kirschner) and the Vienna University of Technology (Andreas Farnleitner and Robert Mach). The successor company of “mbOnline”, represented by Thomas Lendenfeld, is the SME partner in this project.

Andreas Farnleitner explains the project workflow: “Aquavalens comprises four main stages. The focus of the first stage is the search for diagnostic DNA target sequences in new-to-establish faecal indicators and water-borne pathogens. This procedure shall help to make these organisms specifically traceable. In the case of faecal indicators, the target organisms are bacteroids and bifidobacteria, in the case of pa-rasites and pathogens these are cryptosporidia and Campylobacter species.

The second stage is dedicated to the development of new molecular analytical platforms based on the diagnostic DNA target sequences that were found in stage 1. The processes rely on new biotechnologies such as genetic probes, biosensors and nanodetection technology. 

In the third stage, these methods are tested in a practical environment in small and large water utilities, private water supply systems and the food-processing industry.

The last project stage intends to examine how the new methods of detection can be optimally integrated in the existing health protection mechanisms in place in Europe, while also looking at the impact of global climate change on drinking water quality.”

Search for further network partners 

Project coordinator Paul Hunter from Norwich Medical School at the University of East Anglia explains that Aquavalens is “work in progress” – not only from a scientific perspective. The project organisers are still searching for water utilities and food-processing companies which are interested in advancing the Aquavalens project and which are also keen to be-nefit from the results of research. Paul Hunter says: “Especially company representatives who specialise in water analysis, experts from the food industry who are concerned with water and professionals from small and large water utilities belong to our target group. But also individuals dealing with water-borne diseases are welcome to join us.” 

Further information on the web: www.aquavalens.org

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