Published By: Alex Gualt, Nov 28, 2020 -NNY360 Watertown Daily Times and Northern New York Newspapers
SYRACUSE — Testing has been one of the main tools used by local and state governments to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, and the Syracuse-based company Quadrant Biosciences is at the cutting edge of test development.
Quadrant, a private research laboratory embedded in Upstate Medical University, has been working since March to develop a series of tests that can detect signs of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19.
“The virus sheds in the gut of the individual before the individual becomes symptomatic, or before the individual would test positive on a nasal or saliva swab,” he said. “From that, we’re able to test wastewater from the shedding, and pick up the presence of an infected person.”
Mr. Heslop said the Quadrant wastewater test is able to pick up one infected person in a population of about 10,000 people.
Quadrant’s COVID-19 research team is led by Dr. Quin Du, the company’s vice president of clinical research. Dr. Du was instrumental in developing the COVID-19 tests for Quadrant. According to her, in a sample of COVID-contaminated wastewater, there are living, dead and fragmented viruses. Once a sample is collected and taken back to the lab, the viruses are concentrated and the resulting sample is tested for genetic material that matches the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Dr. Du and Mr. Heslop said wastewater testing is currently able to track if there is any sign of the coronavirus in a community, and can track changes in the amount over time, but they are not yet able to estimate how many people could have COVID-19 based off a sample.
“We can pick up one infection, but we can’t tell you if it’s one or five out of 10,000,” Mr. Heslop said.
Dr. Du said there are a number of factors that can have an effect on the concentration of the virus in a sample, based on how much water is flowing through the sewers, what other chemicals may be in the water and the temperature. She said the Quadrant team is currently working to find a way to estimate how many people may be infected based on wastewater test results.
“We are working on that right now actually, we just did some experiments where we had a known number put into the sewer system, and then at the end test and see how much of the virus we are able to detect,” she said.
Currently, Quadrant is partnering with more than 500 organizations and governments to test their wastewater systems for signs of COVID-19. Tests are currently being done weekly for dorm buildings on all SUNY campuses and a number of private colleges, including St. Lawrence University in Canton. City-wide wastewater testing is being done for a number of municipalities across the state as well, including Watertown and Syracuse.