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Queens College receives federal funding for project to detect COVID-19 in wastewater

Queens College
Queens College campus, located at 65-30 Kissena Blvd. in Flushing. (Photo courtesy of Queens College)

Queens College will receive $1,850,000 in federal funding for the creation of a Wastewater Epidemiology Training Laboratory project to develop strategies to detect dangerous pathogens in wastewater, including coronaviruses such as COVID-19.

The money is part of nearly $10 million in federal funds for Community Project Funding secured by Congresswoman Grace Meng for 10 projects throughout Queens. The new government spending package passed the House of Representatives on March 9, and is expected to pass the Senate and be signed into law by President Biden soon. 

The Wastewater Epidemiology Training Laboratory (WETLAB) at Queens College aims to develop simple, cost-effective and robust strategies for detecting the presence of dangerous pathogens in sewer shed wastewater, including coronaviruses, noroviruses and cholera, while training students of diverse backgrounds to participate in high-level research activities. 

Failure to control virus outbreaks led to the emergence of novel variants of concern that threaten to erase gains from vaccination and recovery-based natural immunity. For these reasons, new approaches to community-wide pathogen surveillance are crucial for addressing the current and future pandemics. The WETLAB project was conceived and will be directed by Queens College Biology Professor John Dennehy.

“We are delighted to receive this funding support as it will enable us to train a new generation of students in wastewater epidemiology,” Dennehy said. “We hope to build pathways to high-paying jobs for our students, and additionally to provide support for New York City’s public health needs.”

Dennehy has established himself as a leading expert on testing for COVID using innovative methods, Queens College President Frank Wu said.

“His outstanding work is a great example of how academic research benefits the whole world,”Wu said. “Congresswoman Meng has always been a tremendous supporter of Queens College, and we are proud to be in her district. We are grateful that she appreciates the value not only of scientific research but our vital role within the community.”

The congresswoman said she looks forward to seeing the lab created, and all of the good it will do helping to protect Queens residents. 

 “Queens College is an outstanding institution in our borough, and I am thrilled that it will receive funding to establish a Wastewater Epidemiology Training Laboratory (WETLAB) through the new government spending package,” said Meng, senior member of the House Appropriations Committee. “This lab will provide new and robust strategies for detecting the presence of dangerous pathogens in wastewater. It is something that all congressional districts can benefit from as we continue to battle coronaviruses and other harmful pathogens that can hurt our communities. 

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