According to many strategies to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the basis is to diagnose and conduct as many tests as possible. However, a shortage of spatulas for nasopharyngeal swabs may be a problem. Usually, such swabs are used to diagnose influenza or other respiratory diseases, but in the current situation the demand for them is so high that the search for alternative methods of swab production has begun.
What do swabs look like? They have the form of a ten-centimeter centimeter stick, terminated with a brush, which allows the collection of biological material from the nasopharynx. At a level of 7-8 cm, the sticks have a narrowing in which they can be broken and placed securely in the vial and transported for analysis in the laboratory. Sticks are of course disposable, and with a rapidly growing number of cases, an increasing number of them is needed.
In response to the appeals of many hospitals and healthcare facilities, the American 3D printer manufacturer Formlabs got involved in the swab 3D printing project. Currently, the company is in the process of customizing and optimizing the project together with specialists from USF Health and Northwell Health in order to combine high quality prints with maximum process efficiency.
Production will take place in a branch of the company located in Ohio, which is FDA approved and operate in accordance with the quality management system for medical devices according to ISO 13485. The goal is to print up to 100,000 swabs per day.
In the case of testing, the priority is to follow medical guidelines, using certified materials so that the test results are reliable. To date, specialists have prepared hundreds of variants of spatulas – they were printed from Surgical Guide Resin. The final project received permission from USF Health and authorization from regulatory bodies operating in the field of infectious diseases and virology. Obtaining such quick consent was possible due to the fact that Formlabs had previously been involved in the production of certified dental resins.
Another American manufacturer – Carbon – helps in a similar way. The company, which is the author of the super-fast CLIP technology, ensures that production efficiency can reach up to a million pieces a day! However, the project is still being tested for medical safety and Carbon is waiting for permission to start production.