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Wolverhampton Uni Team Design 3D-printed Swab That Could Test for Virus

A 3D-printed self-adjusting smart swab which could be used for testing coronavirus has been created by researchers.

Experts from the University of Wolverhampton say the swab can be “printed on demand” and could help tackle potential swab shortages.

It has been constructed by Dr Arun Arjunan, John Robinson, Dr Ahmad Baroutaji and Suhaib Zahid from the university’s School of Engineering.

Dr Arjunan, reader in additive manufacturing of functional materials, said: “This research is the first step in starting an open and collaborative process to drastically improve the existing concepts in nasopharyngeal swabs using the principles of digital fabrication and meta-materials.

“The opportunity to digitally conceive and 3D print swabs allows for the incorporation of geometrical features that can potentially reduce patient discomfort.

“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. In comparison, a traditional material will tend to expand under axial load, causing discomfort and stress in surrounding tissues.

“When it comes to the additive manufacturing of functional materials, one of the areas of research the School of Engineering focuses on is the development of 3D-printed meta-materials and meta-biomaterials which is the foundation of this study.

"‘Meta’ indicates that the characteristics of the material are beyond what is commonly seen in nature.”

The one-size-fits-all nasopharyngeal – the upper part of the throat behind the nose – swab puts “significantly” less stress on surrounding tissues in the nasal cavity, compared to the current test.

The swab cannot be made from more common materials – such as cotton and wood – due to the substances affecting Ribonucleic acid (RNA) of the collected sample, leading the team to 3D print them. Printing was carried out at the university’s engineering laboratories.

Dr Arjunan added: “We have now validated the concept at the laboratory scale. Next, we need to complete extensive mechanical and biological characterisation of the swab to ensure safety. This data will be used to further enhance the swab design and optimise it.