As COVID-19 reached the pandemic scale in Spring 2020, the FNR quickly launched a bespoke Call offering support for researchers in Luxembourg to come together to work on projects to help fight, monitor and analyse the pandemic. One such project plays an important role providing a detailed view of the evolution of the pandemic by tracking the presence of the virus in the Grand Duchy’s wastewater.
In the framework of the Research Luxembourg task force and an associated FNR COVID-19 call, the various medical and microbiological research teams of Luxembourg quickly joined forces and put in place concrete actions to manage the unfolding health crisis: The CORONASTEP+ project is a true ‘Research Luxembourg’ effort, bringing together researchers from the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH), the LCSB at the University of Luxembourg, as well as the Laboratoire National de Santé (LNS).
“LIST has been working for several years with the LNS in the framework of different FNR-funded research projects dedicated to microbial pathogens, both viral and bacterial. Collaboration with LIH had already been planned about one year before the health crisis, but it was the CORONASTEP+ project that finally brought this collaboration to fruition,” Principal Investigator Dr Ogorzaly, in charge of the LIST side of the project, together with Dr Henry Cauchie.
Quick action thanks to existing expertise
Detecting pathogenic viruses in wastewater is not new to Luxembourg – Dr Ogorzaly explains that LIST with its expertise in environmental virology has been active in this research topic for a decade already. The focus of her own research is for example on methods for the detection of virus particles in water, with a particular interest in characterising the infectious state of viruses. This LIST expertise, combined with the expertise of scientists from LIH, LNS and the LCSB quickly translated to a high-impact project providing valuable information for the management of a health crisis.
In collaboration with the Administration de la gestion de l’Eau (Water Management Administration) and Aluseau (Luxembourg association of Water and Wastewater operators), LIST researchers collect ssewage amples from 13 wastewater treatment plants in Luxembourg. The samples are essentially given a RT-PCR test, identical to the process used for the large-scale testing programme which runs alongside, enabling the virus to be quickly detected. The close to real-time results are delivered bi-weekly to the government to assist in making informed decisions.
75% of Luxembourg’s wastewater being monitored
The team of Luxembourg scientists have also been in touch with other Benelux scientists since the beginning of the health crisis, with exchanges on implementation of monitoring, protocols or feedback on data processing. Dr Ogorzaly also explains that the small size of Luxembourg has given the team the possibility to get a near complete overview of the country:
“The Luxembourg data are however quite unique in comparison to others, as they cover about three quarters (75%) of the Luxembourg population and territory, by analysing 13 wastewater treatment plants. The small size of the country is an advantage for us! We were also amongst the first monitoring SARS-CoV-2 in sewers with the aim of using these data for the management of the sanitary crisis at the governmental level.”
An indispensable tool to manage a health crisis
The impact of the CORONASTEP+ project has been twofold, and much greater than one might have initially thought: “The results of the SARS-CoV-2 surveillance in wastewater and the corresponding bi-weekly reports proved to be an indispensable tool for the management of the health crisis by the Luxembourg authorities.”
“Moreover, it allowed us to make our research activities known to the general public, which is not always easy to do. The data generated was made public to inform the population of the situation. The impact was great, also thanks to the press, for whom our work also aroused great interest in the national and international media”
The project not only continues to have an impact on the management of the pandemic in Luxembourg, it has also kicked open doors to promising future inter-institutional collaboration:
“This project has allowed me to meet new people and colleagues, some of them only virtually for the moment, unfortunately. These meetings have had a positive impact on future cross-institutional collaborations and new ideas for joint projects are already being discussed, some of which have already resulted in new project submissions,” Dr Ogorzaly concludes.
This is a success story from the 2020 FNR Annual Report