Feature

Formlabs partners with U.S. hospitals to 3D-print COVID-19 test swabs

The nasopharyngeal swabs needed to collect samples for COVID-19 testing are in increasingly short supply in the U.S. as testing increases.


Print this page

April 1, 2020 by Canadian Plastics

3D printer company Formlabs has stepped in to help solve the nationwide shortage of nasopharyngeal (NP) swabs needed to collect samples for COVID-19 testing in the U.S.

NP swabs are flexible sticks with a bristled end that are inserted into the nose to the back of the nasal cavity and swept around to collect material that sticks to or wicks up the bristles. The swab is then placed into a vial that contains a culture medium. Swab sticks have an intentionally weak point 7–8 cm from the bristled tip, which allows the stick to be broken to the correct length so that the vial can be capped before it’s transported to a laboratory for testing.

3D-printed nasal swabs. Photo Credit: Formlabs

Typically used for testing for influenza and other respiratory infections, the current and impending supply chain shortages brought about by increased testing for COVID-19 are serious enough that clinicians are beginning to design and test their own swabs as quickly and safely as possible.

With this in mind, Formlabs collaborated with New York-based Northwell Health, University of South Florida (USF) Health, and Tampa General Hospital. Over the span of one week, the teams worked together to develop a nasal swab prototype and test it in the USF Health and Northwell Health labs. In just two days, USF Health and Northwell Health developed prototypes using Formlabs’ 3D printers and biocompatible, autoclavable resins, and clinical validation has now been completed.

The swabs were tested by clinicians at Northwell Health, USF Health, and Tampa General Hospital for patient safety and comfort. Key milestones in testing the swabs were conducted by USF Health faculty researchers in the Departments of Radiology and Infectious Diseases in collaboration with Northwell Health, including validation testing (24-hour, 3-day, and leeching), and rapid clinical testing at Northwell Health and Tampa General Hospital. All testing showed that the 3D printed nasal swabs perform equally to standard swabs used for testing for COVID-19.

USF Health and Northwell Health are now producing the swabs for their patients and Formlabs is ramping up production with close to 200 printers at its FDA registered and ISO 13485-certified facility in Ohio.

“This is a prime example of the incredible impact we can have on human lives when teams of experts across academia, health care delivery, and the tech industry come together,” said Charles J. Lockwood, MD, MHCM, senior vice president for USF Health and dean of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. “During this current COVID-19 outbreak, there is little time for delay, and the swift, agile and adept action of everyone on this effort will greatly improve this nation’s ability to test patients.”