A greater nasal swab for COVID-19 testing

The startup OPT Industries started producing nasal swabs to deal with the scarcity as hospitals tried to ramp up Covid-19 exams. Credit score: OPT Industries

Over almost seven years researching 3D printing methods in MIT’s Media Lab, Jifei Ou started to suspect the work may result in higher merchandise. He by no means may have imagined it could assist handle provide shortages attributable to a worldwide pandemic.

Since March of final yr, Ou’s firm, OPT Industries, has been working with hospitals to ship a brand new kind of nasal swab for COVID-19 testing. The swabs make use of skinny, hairlike constructions Ou developed whereas at MIT. Tiny woven lattices inside OPT’s swabs enable them to soak up and launch extra fluid than typical swabs.

The MIT spinout makes use of a steady manufacturing method that enables it to scale up printer manufacturing with demand. To this point, it has equipped over 800,000 swabs to a variety of well being care and at-home testing organizations, serving to to satisfy a scarcity that had threatened hospitals’ testing capability.

Within the 12 months since Ou realized OPT may play a job within the pandemic response, the corporate’s small workforce has multiplied its manufacturing and distribution capabilities, partnered with massive well being care organizations like Kaiser Permanente, and begun growing different merchandise that would profit from the corporate’s design course of.

“It’s totally significant to be a part of this effort,” Ou says. “It additionally feels significantly good as a result of we have been growing supplies with hairlike constructions for a very long time, so it is like, “Aha, our experience lastly put to make use of!'”

An innovation leaves the lab

Ou’s time as a analysis assistant within the Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group culminated in a Ph.D. for which he created new methods to design and 3D print intricate microstructures. The work required his workforce to construct its personal 3D printer, create design software program, and develop particular polymers to satisfy excessive sturdiness and backbone necessities.

Ou obtained assist from MIT Sandbox and the E14 Fund, a Media Lab-focused funding agency. Ou additionally credit MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program for serving to him safe business connections. Since leaving MIT, Ou’s workforce has improved the throughput of the machines, enabling steady printing that led the corporate to concentrate on creating versatile, textile-like supplies.

In March final yr, as hospitals across the nation started working out of the nasal swabs wanted to check for COVID-19, Ramy Arnaout, a director at Beth Israel’s medical microbiology laboratories and an affiliate professor at Harvard Medical College, despatched an e-mail to his community at MIT and past searching for assist.

A better nasal swab for COVID-19 testing
OPT Industries’ swab (the INSTASWAB) make use of micron-scale fibers to soak up and launched extra fluid than typical swabs. Credit score: OPT Industries

The next day, Ou walked into Arnaout’s workplace at Beth Israel with a prototype nasal swab his workforce had put collectively in a single day. The go to was notable not just for the fast turnaround, but additionally for the precision with which the prototype was made.

OPT’s merchandise are designed utilizing algorithms that try to optimize every fiber placement. The corporate’s swabs function porous microstructures inside their heads which might be tuned to gather and retain fluid, then shortly launch that fluid when it enters a take a look at vial.

“When it got here to the swabs we thought, “Hey, that is a fantastic match!'” Ou recollects. “Swabs must be smooth, versatile, the constructions on the tip must be very intricate. That is what we do.”

Ou labored with members of MIT’s Middle for Bits and Atoms and an exterior microbiology lab to check OPT’s swabs with conventional, Q-tip-like cotton swabs. The exams confirmed that OPT’s swabs launched 20 occasions the quantity of micro organism for testing. That is necessary as a result of extra micro organism will increase the sensitivity of exams, significantly fast exams, in line with Ou.

Shifting ahead

OPT’s additive manufacturing system can produce the corporate’s hairlike microstructures in a extremely automated means that enables OPT to compete on value with conventional swab makers. The corporate at present is ready to produce 80,000 swabs a day in its facility, and Ou says OPT is constructing newer variations of its machines that may produce merchandise much more shortly.

OPT has secured partnerships with massive well being care organizations such because the distributor Henry Schein to get its swabs into hospitals, well being clinics, and at-home testing kits.

The startup can also be growing different medical sampling units that use its excessive bacterial assortment charge to check for different ailments. In Could, OPT will transfer into a brand new workplace in Medford, Massachusetts, that may convey collectively its lab and manufacturing groups. Ou says the aim is to hurry up the cycle from product ideation to design, prototype, optimization, and manufacturing.

“We’re making an attempt to be like [the multinational products company] 3M in additive manufacturing,” Ou says. “Everybody is aware of 3M as a result of they’ve lots of totally different merchandise which might be important to each day life. That is the mannequin we’re going after. We’ve different medical and beauty merchandise underneath improvement—the swab is just the start.”


Researchers create 3-D-printed nasal swab for COVID-19 testing


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Massachusetts Institute of Expertise

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