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< NUS singapore teams developed three nasopharyngeal swab designs for COVID-19 testing.>
July 13, 2020 • jainendra joshi • MEDICAL AND HEALTH

 

 

Professor Freddy Boey (centre, showing the swabs), and (from left) Dr Alfred Chia, professor David Allen,

and professor Yen Ching-Chiuan are a part of two NUS teams that developed three nasopharyngeal

swab designs for COVID-19 testing.

 

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, there has been a worldwide surge in demand for nasopharyngeal (NP)

swabs, a key element in testing for SARS-CoV-2. Singapore is not any exception. Commercially available

NP swabs utilized in COVID-19 test kits are often out of stock thanks to supply chain disruptions. 

To help address the worldwide shortage, and to make sure Singapore features a sustainable supply of

those swabs, two multidisciplinary research teams from NUS have developed a complete of three swab

designs that are like the present ‘gold standard’ swabs.

A team led by Professor John Eu-Li Wong, NUS Senior vice chairman (Health Innovation & Translation),

professor Yen Ching-Chiuan, Co-Director of the Keio-NUS CUTE Center, and Professor Jerry Fuh,

Director of the NUS  developed ‘Python’. The team worked with professor David Allen and Professor

Wang De Yun from NUS Yong Loo Lin School of drugs , researchers from the NUS School of Design and

Environment and NUS Faculty of Engineering, also as clinicians from the National University Hospital

(NUH), on the planning , pre-clinical testing and clinical validation. 

Additionally, to further increase the assembly of suitable swabs for Singapore and therefore the region,

another NUS team led by Professor Freddy Boey, NUS Deputy President (Innovation & Enterprise),

introduced two new designs, named ‘IM2’ and ‘IM3’, that would be manufactured using injection

moulding. 

Nasopharyngeal swabs and screening accuracy

 . 

NP swabs used for COVID-19 testing have a carefully designed tip section that serves to gather and

retain sufficient nasopharyngeal fluids which are channelled into a holder for further testing. These are

critical design factors as they might affect the accuracy of the test result when screening for SARS-CoV-

2.

Python, the 3D-printed swab

To derive a viable alternative, the NUS team led by Prof Wong, Assoc Prof Yen, Assoc Prof Allen, and

Prof Fuh combined their experience to style , test,  After considering the clinical requirements of the swab

in reference to its mechanical, material and biological properties, a helix structure was used for the swab

tip, because it had excellent fluid adsorption and caused minimal discomfort to the patient. 

The clinical efficacy of the swab, named Python, was compared to an industry standard swab in NUH.

This was administered during a case-controlled study of 40 patients diagnosed with COVID-19, and 10

control patients with acute respiratory disease who had tested negative for SARS-CoV-2.

The Python swab, which was developed in but two months, demonstrated comparable accuracy and

performance, with no significant difference against the quality swab. As such, the Python swab was

deemed safe and acceptable for patient use, and will help mitigate strained resources within the

escalating COVID-19 pandemic

Assoc Prof Yen, one among the lead researchers of the project, said, “We are pleased to contribute our

expertise to deal with the pressing need for nasopharyngeal swabs. As a part of NUS’ contribution

towards the nation’s fight against COVID-19, the planning of the Python swab is free to be used in

Singapore.”

A large-scale solution: Injection moulded swabs 

To further increase the assembly of NP swabs, another NUS team led by Prof Boey developed an

injection moulding process.

“Injection moulding as a producing process is inherently faster than 3D printing as multiple units of the

swabs are often produced during a given cycle. Several hundred swabs are often produced during a jiffy

using the moulding process,” explained Prof Boey.

His team introduced a replacement design that would be injection moulded, named IM2. it had been

tested for its mechanical strength after sterilisation, and for its efficacy in learning viral loads. The results

showed that its performance was like the present commercially used swabs.

The team also redesigned the Python swab to enable it to be injection moulded by increasing the

circumferential strength, and dealing with the manufacturer to style a mould that permits the moulding of

the central hollow cavity. This design was coined IM3. Similar tests were performed to point out that the

planning was like the present commercially used swabs.