Massachusetts-based 3D printing company Markforged has just announced a partnership with optical equipment provider Neurophotometrics (NPM) to produce 3D printed nasopharyngeal swabs for COVID-19 diagnostic testing. The swab design, called Fiberflex Rayon, reportedly detected the virus in all patients tested, while commercial swabs reported false negatives. Markforged says it is now producing 10,000 nasal swabs per day and plans to scale production up to 100,000 per day.
Greg Mark, CEO and Founder of Markforged, explained why the company got involved in the development of nasal swabs, joining other companies like Formlabs, Carbon, HP and EnvisionTEC in the effort. “Identifying COVID-19 infected patients is the best way to slow down the spread of the disease, but we’re seeing a lot of issues with wide-scale testing,” he said. “There are massive shortages of nasal swabs and to make matters worse, hospitals are reporting false negatives with the current swabs on the market.”
The Fiberflex Rayon swabs being produced by Markforged were developed through a collaboration between Neurophotometrics, the San Diego Covid Research Enterprise Network (SCREEN) initiative, Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego, the Scripps Research Institute and the University of California San Diego. The development process consisted of designing the swab and testing it on a group of 50 volunteers. Patients who were confirmed positive for the virus were re-tested 3-14 days later using both the 3D printed and commercial swabs. The former’s results were all positive, while the commercial swab had instances of falsely reporting negatives.
The swab itself consists of a 3D printed base made from nylon and a wrapped 100% rayon tip that gathers the viral specimens from inside the nasal cavity. A number of important performance requirements were taken into account in the swab’s design, including being flexible enough to enter the nasal cavity and strong enough to withstand mechanical force or torsion. The 3D printed swab has been assessed to be similar to commercial swabs in terms of mechanical performance.
Clinical validation of the Fiberflex Rayon nasal swabs was completed this week by the institutional review board (IRB) at Rady Children’s and the University of California-San Diego. Following approval, the hospital placed an order with Neurophotometrics for 30,000 swabs. The optical equipment company is working with Markforged to scale the production of the swabs to meet a growing demand.
“Neurophotometrics collaborated with Markforged and medical professionals to scale this 3D printed swab at a rapid pace,” said Sage Aronson, CEO and Founder of Neurophotometrics. “Markforged 3D printing enabled us to test more than 50 prototypes in 36 hours. And in the last two weeks, we’ve turned an idea into a viable product that’s going to save lives.”
Justin Ryan, PhD, director and research scientists at the 3D Innovations Lab at Rady Children’s, said of the initiative: “Once again, 3D printing is changing the paradigm of medical advancements and device development. We saw an urgent need for swabs for testing, and quickly formed a partnership between academia and industry to come up with designs and test them—and it’s incredible what has been achieved in such a short period of time. When early tests came back positive on the new design and manufacturing process, we needed to figure out how to scale to provide this solution to as many people as possible. Markforged is stepping forward in a huge way to build upon the work this collaboration has achieved. Scaling the swabs to millions will help save lives and further flatten the curve. Innovation and 3D printing are saving lives.”
In addition to producing nasal swabs, Markforged has also designed a 3D printable face shield and is manufacturing it in cooperation with its network of partners and customers. The Fiberflex Rayon swabs can be ordered here, though Neurophotometrics says it is not currently taking more orders as it is at production capacity.