We excrete the viruses we become infected with and the metabolites of drugs we consume in our urine and feces, which eventually enter the sewage system. Therefore, we can track trends of infectious disease and health status of the people in an area by examining wastewater. For example, in Japan, wastewater surveillance has been used to detect hidden polio cases and to predict the outbreak of winter norovirus, but its application had been limited in the past.
Wastewater surveillance gained significant attention with the COVID-19 pandemic. Wastewater surveillance has now been widely adopted primarily in Europe and North America for tracking the spread of COVID-19. Yet the first company to commercialize wastewater surveillance, even before this pandemic, was a US-based startup company, Biobot Analytics. When the company was established by two researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2017, Noriko Endo joined the company as their first employee.
When Endo started her work in wastewater surveillance, the aim was to understand the excessive consumption of opioid, which had been a growing concern in the US. When COVID-19 pandemic emerged in 2020, Biobot Analytics quickly expanded its operations to detect SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The company initiated a nationwide wastewater surveillance campaign as early as March of that year. Overcoming thce technical challenge of detecting chemical substances like opioids and biological substances like virus RNA, Biobot Analytics became to support a significant portion of the national wastewater surveillance efforts by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US.
Within the company, Endo was deeply involved in a wide range of activities, including data analytics, data communication, business development, strategic partnerships, and hardware development. Endo led the implementation of wastewater surveillance in many settings, from local governments to federal governments, international organizations like the World Bank, and facilities such as jails and long-term care facilities.
In August 2022, Endo assumed the role of an invited researcher at Kyoto University, where she is working on the challenge of implementing wastewater surveillance in Japan. She works across various fields, bridging engineering and public health, while also focusing on data communication from the perspectives of both governments and citizens. Her efforts have significantly contributed to the implementation of wastewater surveillance in Japan.