3D printed nasal swabs work as well as commercial swabs for COVID-19 diagnostic testing

September 25, 2020

TAMPA, Fla. (Sept. 25, 2020) - As COVID-19 quickly spread worldwide this spring, shortages of supplies, including the nasopharyngeal (nasal) swabs used to collect viral samples, limited diagnostic testing.

Now, a multisite clinical trial led by the
The results were
Clinical Infectious Diseases. A
Seeking a solution to an unprecedented demand for nasal swabs at their own institution and others, USF Health researchers in the Departments of

The larger-scale clinical trial began in late March at three sites: TGH, Northwell Health, and Philadelphia-based Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. (Other sites joined later.)

Although USF Health held a provisional patent on the concept and design of the new 3D printed swab, they freely shared the information with hospitals, clinics, governments and international agencies experiencing supply chain shortages. Since the first batches of 3D printed swabs were processed, tens of millions of the USF Health-invented devices have been used in 22 countries, said lead author

"In the midst of a pandemic, our team of experts representing academic medicine, health care delivery systems, and the medical device industry put aside boundaries to quickly work together toward a common purpose," Dr. Decker said. "It's rewarding that the novel design for a 3D swab we created has been adopted around the world, equipping more providers to diagnose COVID-19 and hopefully help prevent its spread."

The gold standard for diagnosing respiratory infections is to look for viral genetic material found in mucosal fluid collected with a long, slender swab inserted into the patient's nose and back of the throat. The nasal swab is put into a plastic tube with chemicals that stabilize the sample until the virus-specific genetic material can be extracted and amplified by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in a diagnostics laboratory. Conventional swabs feature a bushy tip coated with nylon flock; the USF Health doctors designed a tip with a 3D printed textured pattern able to capture a sufficient sample for COVID testing while keeping patient safety and comfort in mind.

The clinical trial fully tested the safety and effectiveness of this 3D printed swab in 291 symptomatic adults undergoing COVID-19 screening at the TGH,

"This trial provided the first rigorous head-to-head comparison to make sure that the 3D swab performed as well as the standard," said principal investigator

For both swabs, the only adverse patient reaction documented during the trial was a few instances of slight nasal bleeding. The cost of materials per 3D printed nasal swab ranges from 26-to 46-cents, while commercial swabs cost about $1 each, the authors reported.

Given the ongoing need for widespread COVID-19 testing, the study authors concluded that 3D printing technology offers a viable, cost-efficient option to address swab supply shortages, particularly when local hospitals or other clinical sites already have 3D printing labs equipped to print and process the devices.

Frank Rybicki, MD, PhD, vice chair of operations and quality at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine's Department of Radiology, wrote a
Clinical Infectious Diseases paper. The article frames the contributions of Decker et. al. in the context of the larger 3D manufacturing community.

"Among all parts 3D printed during COVID-19, nasopharyngeal swabs have received the most attention, with participants ranging from humanitarians to charlatans," Dr. Rybicki wrote in his summary. "The authors should be congratulated for staying on the right side of the curve, and for their perseverance, leadership, scientific rigor, and good will."
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