New Academy project uses wastewater surveillance to identify factors related to population health

Publication date 31.1.2024 10.50 | Published in English on 1.2.2024 at 14.38
News item

The purpose of the MiWaGen project, which started as a collaboration between Tampere University and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), is to develop cost-effective methods for the generation of epidemiological health information and population health research. The ability to monitor the spread of diseases is key for prevention, intervention and control of the outbreaks of diseases. 

The MiWaGen project evaluates the statistical dependencies between the entire genome contained in the wastewater microbes and locality-specific health data.

"Wastewater monitoring has emerged as a new epidemic tool in the monitoring of infectious diseases, because it can be used to detect changes occurring at the population level", consortium leader Sami Oikarinen from Tampere University explains the background of the project.

Oikarinen further explains that the previous WastPan academy project involving Tampere University, THL, and the University of Helsinki showed that the amount of coronavirus in wastewater correlates with the number of diagnosed cases of COVID-19 by region. 

The recently launched research utilizes health register data and the gene sequences, the genetic code, which enable the microbes to be identified, contained in the wastewater samples that have already been collected and will be collected in this project.

"We will carry out the sampling of the project at the wastewater treatment plants of five locations, Helsinki, Kuopio, Oulu, Tampere and Turku, every month in 2024, and we will also take small-area samples in Kuopio and Tampere", says Tarja Pitkänen from THL, the sub-project's leader.

Bioinformatics and data science methods, such as machine learning, are used to identify genetic disease risk indicators. Environmental surveillance, through the analysis of population pooled wastewater, can monitor signature sequences in human excreta comprehensively, tracking the emergence of diseases to the community level.

The MiWaGen consortium is led by the Environmental Health research group of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Technology at Tampere University. The consortium's sub-project at THL is attended by research personnel from the Departments of Health Security and Public Health and Welfare. The project is part of the funding granted by the Research Council of Finland for Biosciences, Health and the Environment (BTY). The joint project of Tampere University and THL will continue until the end of August 2027. 

Further information:

Sami Oikarinen 
Senior Research Fellow, MiWaGen consortium leader, Tampere University
tel. +358 50 328 1500 
[email protected] 

Tarja Pitkänen 
Chief Specialist, MiWaGen sub-project leader, THL
tel. +358 29 524 6315 
[email protected] 

Read more about the project on Tampere University webpage.  

Read more about the project on THL webpage. 

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