Wolverhampton University scientists have developed a new 3D printable, self-adjusting smart swab for COVID-19 testing.
This first-of-its-kind, one-size-fits-all nasopharyngeal swab is based on the concepts of mechanical meta-materials: It allows the 3D printed smart swab to navigate through the nasal cavity with significantly less stress on the surrounding tissues.
This should provide greater levels of comfort to those being tested due to its unique shrinking design – and also help tackle potential swab shortages in the coming months as it can be printed on demand.
Many countries are already facing a shortage of nasopharyngeal swabs and they cannot be made from more common materials, like cotton and wood, as they should not affect the Ribonucleic acid (RNA) of the collected sample.
The smart swab was developed by Dr Arun Arjunan, John Robinson, Dr Ahmad Baroutaji and Suhaib Zahid from Wolverhampton’s School of Engineering
“The opportunity to digitally conceive and 3D print swabs allows for the incorporation of geometrical features that can potentially reduce patient discomfort,” notes Dr Arjunan.
“In this regard, our research expertise in additive manufacturing and meta-materials led to the development of auxetic nasopharyngeal swabs that can shrink under axial resistance.”
“This allows the swab to navigate through the nasal cavity with significantly less stress on the surrounding tissues.”
The current process of swabbing can be very uncomfortable as the swab must be inserted several inches deep.
Moreover, the swab head cannot account for the variation in the nasal cavity, and this increases discomfort in both children and the elderly.
The Wolverhampton team has already validated the concept at the laboratory scale. The next step would be to complete extensive mechanical and biological characterisation of the swab to ensure safety.
That data will be used to further enhance the swab design and optimize it for the 3D printing process to ensure efficient mass production.
Image and content: University of Wolverhampton