Watch These 3D-Printed Nasal Swab Prototypes Take Form
BU graduate researcher is developing alternative swabs in response to the global supply shortage created by the coronavirus pandemic
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the global supply chain for nasopharyngeal swabs used to collect patient samples for testing has not been able to keep up with testing demand. Jessie Song, a BU College of Engineering graduate student pursuing a PhD in biomedical engineering, is making use of 3D printing to create a work-around.
Song, who does research with BU engineering faculty members Alice White and Mark Grinstaff, was using nanoscale 3D printing to create tissue scaffolds before the pandemic started. When she heard about the swab shortage, she saw the potential of using 3D printing to fabricate a new kind of nasopharyngeal swab made of more readily available materials.
Song selected a safe and sterilizable resin (often used to fabricate FDA-approved dental medical devices) and assembled the tools necessary to 3D print several different prototypes—doing much of the work from her own garage while BU’s labs were closed to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Now, she’s 3D printing batches of nasopharyngeal swabs at BU’s Multiscale Laser Lithography Laboratory. (The swabs are not the ones BU is using to test its students, faculty, and staff.)
Not only would this 3D printing approach, using new materials, skirt the supply chain issue that’s driving a nasopharyngeal swab shortage, the soft materials could potentially make the deep nasal swab more comfortable for patients.
The new swabs might also reduce the likelihood of false negative test results. The deep nasal swabs used for clinical coronavirus tests must be pushed up a patient’s nose to collect a mucus sample from the place where the throat meets the back of the nose. The technique requires training and can be prone to user error. A swab made of a material that more easily collects mucus, increasing the chance of capturing a high-quality sample, would help reduce false negatives, the researchers say.
Once an optimal swab design is identified, the team plans to conduct a clinical trial at Boston Medical Center, the teaching hospital of the BU School of Medicine.