The nasal swabs being used for COVID-19 testing are specifically designed.
The nasal swabs being used for COVID-19 testing are specifically designed.
Source: University of Wolverhampton

3D printed smart swabs for COVID-19 testing

A 3D printed self-adjusting smart swab, which could be used for COVID-19 testing, has been created by researchers at the University of Wolverhampton.

It provides greater levels of comfort to those being tested due to its unique shrinking design and could help tackle potential swab shortages in the coming months as it can be printed on demand. The team, Dr Arun Arjunan, John Robinson, Dr Ahmad Baroutaji and Suhaib Zahid from the School of Engineering have for the first time developed the one size fits all nasopharyngeal (the upper part of the throat behind the nose) swab using the concepts of mechanical meta-materials. This allows the 3D printed smart swab to navigate through the nasal cavity with significantly less stress on the surrounding tissues.

Diagnoses of COVID-19 are currently being confirmed using a test that relies on nasopharyngeal swabs. Many countries are now facing shortages of these swabs, and the shortages will become even more critical in the coming months due to increased testing and global concerns over a second COVID-19 wave. In addition, they cannot be made from more common materials, like cotton and wood, as they should not affect the Ribonucleic acid (RNA) of the collected sample.

The global shortage in swabs triggered the team to focus on the potential to create nasopharyngeal swabs through 3D printing at the University’s engineering laboratories. Support was also provided by Formlabs GmbH for the printing of the test samples.

“This research is the first step in starting an open and collaborative process to drastically improve the existing concepts in nasopharyngeal swabs using the principles of digital fabrication and meta-materials. “The opportunity to digitally conceive and 3D print swabs allows for the incorporation of geometrical features that can potentially reduce patient discomfort. In this regard, our research expertise in additive manufacturing and meta-materials led to the development of auxetic nasopharyngeal swabs that can shrink under axial resistance. This allows the swab to navigate through the nasal cavity with significantly less stress on the surrounding tissues," Dr Arjunan said. "In comparison, a traditional material will tend to expand under axial load causing discomfort and stress in surrounding tissues. When it comes to the additive manufacturing of functional materials, one of the areas of research at the School of Engineering focuses on is the development of 3D printed meta-materials and meta-biomaterials which is the foundation of this study. ‘Meta’ indicates that the characteristics of the material are beyond what is commonly seen in nature.”

Currently the swabbing process can be very uncomfortable as the swab must be inserted several inches deep. The swab head cannot account for the variation in the nasal cavity, increasing discomfort for children and the elderly.

The nasal swabs being used for COVID-19 testing are also specifically designed; they have a small brush at the end which gathers mucous and a hollow stem to hold it. As the need for COVID-19 diagnostic testing increases around the world, the question of how to scale up the production of these nasal swabs has become paramount. This research will make the full data and design publicly available so that any institution or country will be able to manufacture them on demand.

On the next steps for the project, Dr Arjunan added: “We have now validated the concept at the laboratory scale. Next, we need to complete extensive mechanical and biological characterisation of the swab to ensure safety. This data will be used to further enhance the swab design and optimise it for the 3D printing process for efficient mass production. This will be followed by real-world testing of swab collection which will be in collaboration with healthcare partners. The study is likely to take another six months before it can be used in test centres, however the benefits of the swab go beyond the COVID crisis as these smart swabs are superior to traditional swabs because they significantly reduce patient discomfort and can be printed on demand.”

Subscribe to our newsletter

Related articles

Biosensor detects COVID-19 antibodies in seconds

Biosensor detects COVID-19 antibodies in seconds

An advanced nanomaterial-based biosensing platform detects antibodies specific to SARS-CoV-2 within seconds.

3D printed origami technology to fight Covid-19

3D printed origami technology to fight Covid-19

Researchers are replicating the subtle folding of origami to create 3D printable technologies to aid in the fight against COVID-19.

Insulin-producing implant for diabetics

Insulin-producing implant for diabetics

Bioengineers are using 3D printing and smart biomaterials to create an insulin-producing implant for type 1 diabetes patients.

3D printing promotes tissue engineering

3D printing promotes tissue engineering

Researchers have demonstrated the viability of 3D-printed tissue scaffolds that harmlessly degrade while promoting tissue regeneration following implantation.

3D printing enable new range of diagnostic tests

3D printing enable new range of diagnostic tests

A new 3D printing technique that extends the possibilities of lateral flow testing. With the printing technique, advanced diagnostic tests can be produced that are quick, cheap, and easy to use.

3D printing to aid tissue replacement

3D printing to aid tissue replacement

Researchers look to a future someday in which doctors can hit a button to print out a scaffold on their 3D printers and create custom-made replacement skin, cartilage, or other tissue for their patients.

3D printing heart cells from stem cells

3D printing heart cells from stem cells

Scientists have shown that 3D printing can be used to control stem cell differentiation into embryoid bodies that replicate heart cells.

Custom-designed swabs for diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2

Custom-designed swabs for diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2

Researchers have developed a total of three swab designs that are comparable to the current ‘gold standard’ swabs.

Lab engineers 3D functional bone tissues

Lab engineers 3D functional bone tissues

Researchers have developed a printable bioink that could be used to create anatomical-scale functional tissues.

Popular articles

Subscribe to Newsletter