A new £13 million Centre of Excellence in water-based health monitoring will be established at the University of Bath.

The Centre of Excellence in Water-Based Early-Warning Systems for Health Protection, WBE@Bath, will develop a public health surveillance system to detect outbreaks of diseases by testing water systems for traces of pathogens or other biomarkers at a community level.

It will be designed with the help of longstanding partners including Wessex Water.

The system could help prevent future pandemics from spreading by detecting them early, and will provide better understanding of chronic, non-communicable diseases such as diabetes.

The £8.4 million investment was announced by Research England, part of UK Research and Innovation. The full cost is £13 million, including contributions from the University of Bath and partners.

The Centre will host an ‘Urban Living Lab’ and state-of-the-art analytical capabilities such as a digital water-sensing platform, training base and testing infrastructure designed to provide low-cost and real-time community-wide profiling of population health and the environment.

Professor Barbara Kasprzyk-Hordern, co-director of Bath’s Water Innovation Research Centre, says: “COVID-19 demonstrated how the successful management of disease outbreaks is critically dependent on real-time, cost-effective and comprehensive surveillance systems enabling testing of whole communities, irrespective of location.

“Our previous research has shown the transformative potential of using wastewater-based epidemiology to carry out this testing in locations such as water recycling centres. These techniques could give us a crucial tool in detecting future epidemics before they happen.

“We will build a unique, full scale urban living lab that will enable testing of new approaches and tools aimed at better understanding of how diseases spread, the risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals and how to develop more effective interventions and management strategies.”

The funding is part of a £156 million investment by Research England’s Expanding Excellence in England (E3) Fund, which will support 18 universities across England to expand their small, but outstanding research units.

A new Centre of Doctoral Training designed to improve the health of the UK’s rivers and lakes will also be led by Prof Kasprzyk-Hordern.