The testing swab is comprised of PLA-printed plastic and a folded and wrapped...
The testing swab is comprised of PLA-printed plastic and a folded and wrapped rayon sheet.
Source: NJIT

A novel swab design to augment COVID-19 testing

A team of NJIT physicists has developed a novel test swab that can be 3D printed using inexpensive, widely available materials and speedily assembled in a range of fabrication settings. To augment the nation's testing capabilities, the inventors are making the swab's design publicly available to large and small manufacturers, free of licensing fees, during the COVID-19 emergency.

The developers, from NJIT's Additive Manufacturing Lab (AddLab), committed to the Open COVID Pledge and posted the design on the National Institutes of Health's 3D Print Exchange website, which provides technology related to biomedical science that is readily compatible with 3D printers. While they filed a provisional patent on the design in mid-April, they say it's important to make it available immediately. Basic medical supplies, including swabs, are still in short supply.

"Broad testing is essential to contain the spread of the virus," said John Federici, director of the AddLab. "We've created a device for medical personnel in need of inexpensive, rapidly producible supplies when their normal channels fail. We're making it temporarily available through an open license to address shortages caused by the pandemic."

The design has novel features that simplify fabrication and storage and reduce contamination risk. The typical swab is a 7-inch stick with synthetic material, such as rayon or dacron, attached to the swabbing end. After the sample is taken from the nose or throat, the swab is cut off, preserved in solution and then tested with a chemical called trizol that recovers RNA from the virus.

The AddLab swab, by contrast, consists of two interlocking arms that work together, like forceps, to grip the swabbing material. By sliding the two arms against each other, the device can eject the sample, depositing it into a vial with no need to handle it. "Our swab releases the sample without the need for a pair of scissors to cut it. This removes a step from the process, and a piece of equipment, thereby reducing the chance for contamination and spread of the virus, while also speeding up testing," explained Samuel Gatley, the senior additive manufacturing technician for the AddLab.

To speed fabrication and reduce costs, the team designed a swab that doesn't require a support structure during its production. "Often, 3D printers lay down a scaffolding made from the same filament as the part, which is broken off and discarded after the print is completed," noted Nicholas Warholak, a technician and designer for the team, who also worked on folding configurations for the swab tip. "The NJIT swab is designed around geometries that eliminate the need for a support structure. This shaves off time and material. Over a 1000-unit run, a savings of 10 seconds and 0.1 grams per unit translates to over 2.5 hours and $2.00 of filament. On the scale that is needed globally, which is millions, the savings becomes even more significant."

The swab is intended for immediate use to detect COVID-19 infections, but can be deployed in the future to detect a range of pathogens in pandemic hot spots around the globe since it can be fabricated locally using inexpensive 3D printing technology from a design that is downloaded either from the cloud or a website, avoiding the logistical problems of shipping medical supplies. The plastic forceps can be sterilized and reused.

"Innovations in technology, quickly executed, will help us achieve the goal of getting ahead of the virus," said Atam Dhawan, NJIT's senior vice provost for research. "Safe, effective and easily produced medical supplies are key to this fight. Large-scale testing will allow us to develop plans to return to work and resume normal operations."

Written by Tracey Regan

Subscribe to our newsletter

Related articles

Nanotechnology provides rapid visual detection of COVID-19

Nanotechnology provides rapid visual detection of COVID-19

Scientists have developed an experimental diagnostic test for COVID-19 that can visually detect the presence of the virus in 10 minutes.

3D printed swabs fill gap in COVID-19 test kits

3D printed swabs fill gap in COVID-19 test kits

In response to a request from the Commonwealth of Kentucky, faculty of University of Louisville have created a 3D printed swab made of a pliable resin material.

A 3D-printed diffuser to treat COVID-19 patients

A 3D-printed diffuser to treat COVID-19 patients

Scientists have delivered more than 200 3D-printed diffusers for metered dose inhalers (MDI) to the Houston hospital and stands ready to produce more if needed.

AI, App provide at-home assessment of coronavirus risk

AI, App provide at-home assessment of coronavirus risk

A coronavirus app coupled with machine intelligence will soon enable an individual to get an at-home risk assessment based on how they feel and where they've been in about a minute.

3D printed smart swabs for COVID-19 testing

3D printed smart swabs for COVID-19 testing

Researchers have created a 3D printed self-adjusting smart swab that could be used for COVID-19 testing.

3D printed touchable coronaviruses

3D printed touchable coronaviruses

Researchers have printed the first biologically correct 3D model of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

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.

3D printing sensors on expanding organs

3D printing sensors on expanding organs

Scientists have developed a 3D printing technique that could have future applications in diagnosing and monitoring the lungs of patients with COVID-19.

UV light disinfection could prevent virus spread

UV light disinfection could prevent virus spread

A device capable of automatically disinfecting common surfaces could be a vital tool in virus and disease mitigation during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Popular articles