Ottawa’s Spartan Bioscience finds high levels of Legionella bacteria across government buildings

Spartan
Spartan Bioscience CEO Paul Lem.

An Ottawa startup is reporting troubling levels of Legionella bacteria in government buildings across the National Capital Region.

Spartan Bioscience first announced in November of last year that it would pivot its personal DNA testing cube – billed as a precursor to instant at-home diagnoses – to detecting the bacteria responsible for Legionnaires Disease. The new commercialization, aimed at the commercial real estate market, is an alternative path to revenue while Spartan clears clinical testing hurdles to have its device certified for medical use.

With funding from the Build in Canada Innovation Program, the Ottawa biotech firm worked with Public Services and Procurement Canada on a 12-week study of 51 government buildings in Canada, 32 of which were in the National Capital Region. The research compared the effectiveness of weekly on-site DNA testing with Spartan tech to the current standard, monthly Legionella culture testing.

The study, which has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, found that 39 per cent of cooling towers tested positive for Legionella contamination above acceptable limits. Eight per cent of towers had contamination levels higher than 100 bacteria per milliliter, which is ten times higher than limits in Quebec. (Ontario counts contamination levels under 1,000 bacteria per milliliter as low levels, but still requiring action.)

The higher levels of contamination went unflagged through monthly screening with existing methods. Spartan adds that its weekly testing model is better suited to stem bacterial outbreaks, as populations of Legionella can double in under three hours time inside amplifying conditions such as a cooling tower.

Spartan says it plans to publish more detailed findings from its initial study in upcoming scientific publications.