How wastewater treatment technologies could also be applied in the field of medicine
Winnifred Noorlander, a Systems & Control student with a passion for entrepreneurship, is working on a new medicine for the treatment of sepsis. A life-threatening response of the body to an infection, sepsis causes 20% of all global deaths – 11 million each year. So how is a student without having any prior knowledge of biotechnology pursuing this research at the faculty of Applied Sciences? Why is she working on a more reliable answer to this highly lethal inflammatory disease? By Sarah Bennink Bolt
The story begins years before Winnifred got involved, with the research group of Environmental Biotechnology at the TU Delft. Mark van Loosdrecht, Yuemei Lin and many others have been researching the behaviour of bacteria and wastewater treatment applications for a long time. They discovered that bacteria can convert certain compounds found in wastewater, such as nitrogen, into useful biopolymers.
During this conversion process, the bacteria form a layer called a ‘granule’ around themselves, for protection from the environment. The group found that they could use this process to develop new sustainable materials for a variety of industries such as the paper industry, the agriculture sector and the cement industry.
The research showed that, under the right conditions, the bacteria are able to develop different complex sugars. Complex molecules like these are usually found only in higher organisms such as mammals or crustaceans, so locating and extracting these sugars from bacteria would be quite extraordinary. The group patented the process by which these bacteria produce their granular shape, because they suspected there could be many innovative applications.