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Healthy Infrastructure Research Group

The Healthy Infrastructure Research Group studies how we can make our environment healthier and how to reduce the spread of infections

About

Life in the 21st century is very difficult to how it used to be. More than half of the world's population is now living in cities and migration is higher than it has ever been. As a result, we come into contact with many more individuals in a single day than our ancestors did in a lifetime.

We also spend the majority of our time indoors. Confined environments are not always healthy and contact with many people can lead to the spread of infection. This situation has been made more difficult with worldwide travel which transfers infections across the globe, and by the onset of antimicrobial resistance.

The Healthy Infrastructure Research Group studies how we can make our environment healthier and how to reduce the spread of infections by:

  • Investigating how microbes behave and survive in indoor environments
  • Developing engineering solutions that improve environmental health
  • Testing antimicrobial strategies

How clean is your phone? 

One of HIRG's regular public engagement activities, phone swabbing offers members of the public a chance to see how the microbial world is very much part of our world.   

Find out the data from Dr Ciric's latest experiments on our How clean is your phone? page. 


In the Media

Listen to HIRG Director Dr Lena Ciric discuss HIRG's work for the Wellcome Collection Packed Lunch podcast.

Dr Lena Ciric and the HIRG team were featured in a recent Microbiology Society podcast explaining the science behind engineering the built enviornment to prevent infections. 

SoundCloud Widget Placeholderhttps://soundcloud.com/microbiosoc/ebola-in-great-apes-and-building-heal...


People

The Healthy Infrastructure Research Group is located within the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering​ at University College London.

Dr Lena Ciric 
Lecturer in Environmental Engineering and HIRG Director

Lena is a microbiologist with over 15 years of experience of measuring microbial responses to environmental changes (e.g. nutrients, antimicrobials). She is interested in how the indoor environment can be engineered to improve health and reduce the spread of infection.

Dr Lena Ciric's profile

Dr Luiza Campos
Senior Lecturer in Environmental Engineering

Luiza is an engineer with practical experience working in water treatment. Her research interests lie within water and sanitation, varying from process modelling to sustainable and resilient sanitation services, including rainwater harvesting, the reduction of risks in sanitation infrastructure, and the modelling the next generation of sanitation systems.

Dr Luiza Campos' profile

Dr Liora Malki-Epshtein
Lecturer in Environmental Fluid Mechanics

Liora applies her expertise in Fluid Mechanics to problems at the interface between the human and the natural environment by modelling and monitoring street level pollution and street canyon ventilation, the flushing Ballast water tanks, and sustainable energy water and food generation.

Dr Liora Malki-Epshtein's profile

Dr Elaine Cloutman-Green 
Honorary Lecturer at HIRG, CEGE

Elaine is a Principal Clinical Scientist and NIHR Clinical Lecturer working within Infection Prevention and Control.  She started her Clinical Scientist training in 2004 in Microbiology and has specialised in Infection Prevention and Control since 2007.  In 2015 she completed her PhD on ‘The role of the environment in transmission of healthcare associated infection’.  Her research on prevention of healthcare associated infection also includes the development and implementation of rapid typing schemes in order to identify transmission; in 2016 she was awarded an NIHR ICA Clinical Lectureship in order to continue this work. She is the Chair of the Environmental Network and a NICE Expert Advisor in Infection Prevention and Control. 

Dr Melisa Canales
HIRG Technical Officer & CEGE Biological Safety Officer

Melisa Canales joined UCL in 2009. Her career has largely been in the arena of clinical microbiology, firstly at the National Reference Laboratory, Ministry of Health in Honduras, and later within quality control in biotechnology and radiopharmaceutical companies in the UK. She has more than 15 years of research experience in microbiology, completing her PhD from University of Zaragoza, Spain. Melisa’s research interests lie in understanding how individual microorganisms and microbial communities interact with different environments, understanding infectious disease transmission within indoor environments and water/waste water treatment and the discovery and development of new antimicrobial agents. Her responsibilities include running the analytical services at HIRG, teaching practical laboratory classes and assisting with a range of multidisciplinary research projects at HIRG, and within the department.

Dr Claire Bankier
Postdoctoral Research Associate

Claire is working on an EPSCR-funded project to investigate the antimicrobial effects of intermetallic nanoparticles for the development of air and water filtration systems. Before coming to UCL, Claire completed her undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences at Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh in 2010. She continued her studies at HWU, receiving an MSc (distinction) in Biotechnology after being awarded a competitive scholarship for academic excellence (2012). Claire most recently completed her PhD at Imperial College London in 2016 which involved the development and analysis of complex bacteria and virus infection networks in natural microbial communities. 

Asrah Binti Mohamad
Postgraduate Research Student

Asrah has obtained her first degree in Biochemistry at University Putra Malaysia in 2004. She began her career at the Environmental Research Centre, Institute for Medical Research Malaysia (IMR) as a temporary research officer and later, was offered a permanent post in 2005 until now. In 2007-2009, she pursued her Master in Applied Biological Sciences (Environmental Health) at the Chulabhorn Graduate Institute, Thailand. In IMR, Asrah was involved in investigations and projects relating to air quality and sick building syndrome, mainly regarding mould infestation in indoor environments, collaborating with IMR's engineering department. Due to the great interest in the field of fungi in the indoor environment, she started her PhD in 2013 at the Healthy Infrastructure Research Group, CEGE, investigating proteomic responses to anti-fungal treatment in Stachybotrys chartarum. Find out more about this project in the 'Our work' section below.

Like Xu
Postgraduate Research StudenT

Like obtained her bachelor's degree in Environmental Engineering at Huazhong Agricultural University in 2012, and then completed her Master's degree at Zhejiang University in 2015. During her graduate studies in Environmental Engineering, she mainly focused on detecting antibiotic resistance in specific environments (e.g. sustainable agricultural systems, natural rivers, wastewater or drinking water treatment plants). Like has training in bacteriology and pharmaceutical chemistry. Her PhD research project aims to study the behaviour of antibiotic resistance in the sand filter procedure used in the treatment of drinking water.

Stacey Harbot
Postgraduate Research Student

Stacey graduated from the University of the West of England in 2012 with a degree in Biological Sciences, focusing on microbiology and bacterial identification. Her undergraduate project focused on microbiological quality of pre-packed salads, as ready-to-eat foods have great potential for food-borne pathogens. She chose to undertake a year in industry, working as a food microbiologist, analysing food and water samples for potential pathogens and performing presumptive identification of bacterial species and further conformational work. She then moved into the medical device industry starting work at STERIS, working in bioburden testing, cleanroom work for sterility testing, environmental monitoring and microbiological analysis. Stacey's PhD project is in collaboration with GAMA healthcare, investigating composition, distribution and movement of organisms in the clinical setting and how other influences, such as air flow, can cause a change in these factors.


Our work

Watch, read and find out more about HIRG's work projects, past and present. 

Antimicrobial filters for hospital air & water systems (2016-2019) 

YouTube Widget Placeholderhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3Mqu74CG3w

 
Hospital air and water systems can often be contaminated with microorganisms that can cause infections in patients, leading to increased mortality, hospital stays and higher costs of care. It is imperative that a cost- effective method for the removal of these organisms is developed. This EPSRC funded project (EP/N034228/1) aims to develop filters that actively kill microorganisms, and is a multidisciplinary collaboration involving scientists from UCL CEGE, the UCL Mechanical Engineering Department, the University of Hertfordshire, Great Ormond Street Hospital and a number of industrial partners.
The science of cleaning (2016-2019)

The project is tackling the science behind how material finds its way to the floor and other surfaces in the hospital setting, how it is transported and what it is. This information can then be used to give guidance as to where and how to clean. It will also provide an indication of where to measure or assess contamination. The studentship is a collaborating between GAMA Healthcare, UCL Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering, UCL Mechanical Engineering and Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Improved drinking water treatment for the elimination of antibiotics and antibiotic resistant organisms (2015-2018)

The project aim is to study the behaviour of antibiotics and the relevant resistant bacteria (ARB) and resistance genes (ARGs) in the sand filter procedure used in the treatment of drinking water. As well as improved removal of antibiotics, the project will aim to establish a novel method for the attenuation of ARGs/ARB from drinking water in order to mitigate the risk of transmission of antibiotic resistance.

Microbiological safety of compost derived from the composting toilet (2015-2017)

HIRG has been awarded funding by UCL Grand Challenges Sustainable Cities to look into the microbiological safety of compost derived from a vacuum flush composting toilet. The work will be carried out in parallel with a qualitative study of the installation and use of the toilet by the public.

Antimicrobial photolytic surfaces (2014-2017)

We have been testing the antimicrobial activity of novel surfaces on bacterial, viral and fungal organisms in collaboration with UCL's Department of Chemistry. This work is funded by an EPSRC Materials Innovation Impact Acceleration award.

Nanoparticle catalysis for waste water treatment (2014-2017)

The National Chemical Laboratory in India has developed novel catalysts for water treatment. HIRG have been collaborating with the NCL to assess the activity of the catalysts on microbial species. This work is funded by the UK-India Education and Research Initiative.

Proteomic responses of Stachybotrys chartarum to antifungal treatment and prevention (2013-2017)

This project aims to study the toxic black mould, Stachybotrys chartarum, focusing on its detection, behaviour and resistance to different anti-fungal agents. Stachybotrys spp are normally found in poorly ventilated and damp environments. They produce mycotoxins as secondary products, which can bring about numerous adverse health effects to humans via inhalation. This study will provide an insight into the response of Stachybotrys spp on exposure to chemical treatment or prevention strategies used in the bioremediation of mould-contaminated buildings. This project involves using microscopic techniques and several molecular techniques such as PCR, MALDI TOF and 2D gels.

Environmental risk of TB transmission (2011-2017)

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HIRG has been working with Public Health England for a number of years to devise a simple method to quantify the environmental risk of TB transmission. We have developed a simple model to predict the risk of TB transmission in a particular environment, such as an office or a classroom. This work was funded by an EPSRC Challenging Engineering award and was done in collaboration with the PHE LTBEx team.

Past projects

Resilient Infrastructure and Building Security

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The RIBS project, funded by the FP7 programme and led by UCL Security and Crime Science, supported the design of effective, viable security measures which offer protection without affecting the functioning of the organisations they protect. HIRG worked on the biological security element.
 

The Health and Care Infrastructure Research and Innovation Centre (HACIRIC)

HaCIRIC carried out world class research to support better healthcare through better infrastructure, tackling the key challenges that face today's health and care systems by focusing on meeting expanding demand, while also controlling costs, improving quality and raising productivity.


Facilites

The HIRG research space consists of a Category 2 microbiological laboratory and a 43 m3 environmental chamber. We use both traditional culture and molecular biology methods for microbiological analyses. We also have a wide array of instruments (portable and static) for the measurement of indoor and outdoor air quality including temperature, relative humidity, ventilation, CO2, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), light intensity and biological matter.

See below for equipment details. 


Consultancy and services

We provide consultancy in three main areas:

  1. Indoor air quality
    We have a wide range of indoor air quality monitoring equipment which we can employ to assess air quality and indoor environments (such as offices and classrooms), and test ventilation systems at your site. We can also advise on measures that can be taken to improve air quality and ventilation.

  2. Testing and validation of antimicrobial strategies
    We have many years of expertise in the testing and validation of antimicrobial strategies, including hydrogen peroxide vapour instruments, isolation units and antimicrobial surfaces. We can test efficacy of antimicrobials on surfaces, in liquid and on surfaces using a wide range of microbial organisms.

  3. Microbial sampling and identification
    We have a wide range of microbiological samplers we can use to collect contaminants (e.g. biofilms, moulds) from various environments. We will then take the samples away for analysis and identification and advise on the best strategy for future prevention and elimination.

rental of our facilities

The following facilities and equipment can be available from HIRG with or without a member of staff for operation and training:

Air quality equipment
  • Particle counters (0.3 to 10 μm):
    • Light house models: 3013 and 5019
    • TSI Aero Track 9306-V
    • TSI Nanoscan SMPS 3910
    • TSI Optical Particle Sizer 3330 (OPS)
    • CME DT-9880 
  • Carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide (TSI Aerotrack 7575x)
  • Balometer (TSI PH731)
  • VOC monitor
  • Wall humidity (N20FR Maplin and Pinless moisture MS-128)
  • Long term IAQ monitors:
    • HOBO temperature, relative humidity and light (models  U12-012 and UX100-003)

    • HOBO occupancy (model  UX90-006)

Microbiology equipment
  • Sartorius Airport MD8 
  • Thermofisher Six-Stage Viable Andersen Cascade Impactor ( ACI) 
  • Burkard Multivial Cyclone sampler for airborne particles -C90Ma
  • Impinger- SKC bio sampler 4279
  • Burkard Surface sampler

Molecular biology
  • Thermofisher Nanodrop 2000
  • Qubit 3.0 Fluorometers 
  • Applied Biosystems Quantitative PCR machine 7500


Publications

Find a list of our recent publications here.

2017
  • Eranka Illangakoon, U., Mahalingam, S., Wang, K., Cheong, Y. K., Canales, E., Ren, G. G., . . . Ciric, L. (2017). Gyrospun antimicrobial nanoparticle loaded fibrous polymeric filters. Materials Science and Engineering C, 74, 315-324. 
  • Pompei, C. M. E., Ciric, L., Canales, M., Karu, K., Vieira, E. M., & Campos, L. C. (2017). Influence of PPCPs on the performance of intermittently operated slow sand filters for household water purification. Science of the Total Environment, 581-582, 174-185. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.12.091
2015
  • Chaudhari, V., Mayadevi, S., Kim, J. K., Campos, L. C., Ciric, L., Goswami, A. K., & Sonar, S. K. (2015). Adsorptive Removal of Congo Red Dye using Surfactant Modified Carbon-doped TiO2. International Conference on Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, Mumbai. October 2015.
  • Yadav, T., Sonar, S. K., Mayadevi, S., Kim, J. K., Campos, L. C., Ciric, L., & Bathe, G. A. (2015). Development of spinel doped TiO2 for Adsorption of Congo Red Dye. International Conference on Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, Mumbai. October 2015.
  • Cloutman-Green, Elaine, Melisa Canales, Louise Pankhurst, Tessia Evenor, Deirdre Malone, Nigel Klein, Lena Ciric, and John C. Hartley. "Development and implementation of a cleaning standard algorithm to monitor the efficiency of terminal cleaning in removing adenovirus within a pediatric hematopoietic stem cell transplantation unit." American journal of infection control 43, no. 9 (2015): 997-999.
  • Campos, Luiza C., Philippa Ross, Zaheer A. Nasir, Huw Taylor, and Jonathan Parkinson. "Development and application of a methodology to assess sanitary risks in Maputo, Mozambique." Environment and Urbanization (2015): 0956247815595784.
  • Cloutman-Green, Elaine, Melisa Canales, Qizhi Zhou, Lena Ciric, John C. Hartley, and Gerald McDonnell. "Biochemical and microbial contamination of surgical devices: A quantitative analysis." American journal of infection control 43, no. 6 (2015): 659-661.
2014
  • Pankhurst, Louise, Elaine Cloutman-Green, Melisa Canales, Nikki D'Arcy, and John C. Hartley. "Routine monitoring of adenovirus and norovirus within the health care environment." American journal of infection control 42, no. 11 (2014): 1229-1232.
2013
  • Taylor, Jonathon, Phillip Biddulph, Michael Davies, Ian Ridley, Anna Mavrogianni, Eleni Oikonomou, and Ka man Lai. "Using building simulation to model the drying of flooded building archetypes." Journal of Building Performance Simulation 6, no. 2 (2013): 119-140.
  • Khan, Mohammad Zain, Yei Lin Sim, Yang Jian Lin, and Ka Man Lai. "Testing biological effects of hand-washing grey water for reuse in irrigation on an urban farm: a case study." Environmental technology 34, no. 4 (2013): 545-551.
  • Taylor, Jonathon, Mike Davies, Melisa Canales, and Ka man Lai. "The persistence of flood-borne pathogens on building surfaces under drying conditions." International journal of hygiene and environmental health 216, no. 1 (2013): 91-99.
  • Nasir, Z. A., L. Ciric, and L. C. Campos. "Health Care Associated Infection Control: Role of Aerosol Science and Technology." European Medical Hygiene 3 (2013): 36-41.
    Taylor, Jonathon, Phillip Biddulph, Michael Davies, and Ka man Lai. "Predicting the microbial exposure risks in urban floods using GIS, building simulation, and microbial models." Environment international 51 (2013): 182-195.
2012
  • Rydin, Yvonne, Ana Bleahu, Michael Davies, Julio D. Dávila, Sharon Friel, Giovanni De Grandis, Nora Groce et al. "Shaping cities for health: complexity and the planning of urban environments in the 21st century." The Lancet 379, no. 9831 (2012): 2079-2108.
  • Pankhurst, L. J., S. Anaraki, and K. M. Lai. "Combining environmental assessment and contact investigations to make tuberculosis screening decisions." The International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease 16, no. 8 (2012): 1023-1029.
  • D’Arcy, Nikki, Melisa Canales, David A. Spratt, and Ka man Lai. "Healthy schools: standardisation of culturing methods for seeking airborne pathogens in bioaerosols emitted from human sources." Aerobiologia 28, no. 4 (2012): 413-422
  • Lai, Ka Man, Zimuzo H. Ozuah, Peter Williams, and Livia S. Piccinini. "Systems connectivity between social, cultural and economic factors and housing environments associated with TB transmission in slums." Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 55, no. 3 (2012): 355-367.
  • Ka Man, Lai. "Human factors and bioagent transmission following an indoor bioterror attack." Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense (2012).
  • Borrion, Hervé, Timothy Mitchener-Nissen, James Taylor, and Ka-Man Lai. "Countering Bioterrorism: Why smart buildings should have a code of ethics." In Intelligence and Security Informatics Conference (EISIC), 2012 European, pp. 68-75. IEEE, 2012.
2011
  • Lai, Ka-Man, Christian Bottomley, and Ruth McNerney. "Propagation of respiratory aerosols by the vuvuzela." PloS one 6, no. 5 (2011): e20086.
  • Pankhurst, L. J., J. Taylor, E. A. Cloutman-Green, J. C. Hartley, and K. M. Lai. "Can Clean-Room Particle Counters be Used as an Infection Control Tool in Hospital Operating Theatres?." Indoor and Built Environment (2011): 1420326X11409467.
  • Taylor, Jonathon, Ka man Lai, Mike Davies, David Clifton, Ian Ridley, and Phillip Biddulph. "Flood management: prediction of microbial contamination in large-scale floods in urban environments." Environment international 37, no. 5 (2011): 1019-1029.
  • Maliki, Ashoke David, and Ka-Man Lai. "Design and application of a pre-composting test step to determine the effect of high fat food wastes on an industrial scale in-vessel composting system." International Biodeterioration & Biodegradation 65, no. 6 (2011): 906-911.
  • Pankhurst, L. J., U. Akeel, C. Hewson, I. Maduka, P. Pham, J. Saragossi, J. Taylor, and K. M. Lai. "Understanding and mitigating the challenge of bioaerosol emissions from urban community composting." Atmospheric Environment 45, no. 1 (2011): 85-93.