Dental College of Georgia 3D prints nasal swabs for COVID-19 test


Supply shortage is one of the main road blocks to increasing COVID- 19 testing. The instruments necessary to gather samples are among the items in short supply – so The Dental College of Georgia at Augusta University found a solution to produce the nasal swabs needed for the test.

The Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Department at The DCG is accustomed to 3D printing various items used in their procedures, so they took that knowledge and applied it to 3D printing nasal swabs.

OMFS Resident
Dr. Kyle Frazier
OMFS Resident
Dr. Alexander Faigen

“These guys are the ones who put it into action,” says OMFS Director Dr. Jeffrey James.

He was quick to give his residents credit for finding a way to 3D print the swabs: “They produced a little swab and, at the same time, we presented the idea with some of the medical folks.”

Dr. James says, at first, there was some skepticism, so they went back to the drawing board.

“You see, ‘Oh, it’s a little plastic swab, that’s great,’ but I could not have told you 2 weeks ago how many man hours it would take to design, trial and error, print and misprint, and print them too close and now they’re stuck together,” Dr. James says about the process.

3D Printed Nasal Swab

Once they developed an instrument that was just right, Microbiologist Dr. Alison McMullen tested the 3D printed swabs to make sure they worked.

“There was some testing done where they collected on patients and we ran those tests in the laboratory and said that they were comparable to our previous swabs so we were able to validate to say that they did work,” says Dr. McMullen.

Dr. James says they added hash marks to the shaft of the 3D printed swabs to further increase the effectiveness.

“So that whoever is doing it, whether they are a nurse, a medic, or even a layperson, if the entrance of the nose isn’t within the hash mark on the shaft, you’re not at the target,” Dr. James explains. “The hope is that the potential for a false negative will go down and we will get more specimen at the correct target so that [Dr. McMullen] can run her test and get a good test basically.”

Dr. McMullen is the medical director of the Microbiology Lab at the Medical College of Georgia at AU Health. Once swabs are used to collect a sample from a patient, Dr. McMullen’s lab is one of the places where the sample is tested for COVID-19.

Rendering for 3D Printing
Nasal Swabs

Both Dr. McMullen and Dr. James say the effort to 3D print nasal swabs was a collaboration with the hospital, the Medical College and the Dental College and would not have been possible without help from multiple different disciplies of healthcare.

“This is a moment where we can help,” says Dr. James. “That’s what the Dental College wants to do is just to help and be there for our community and our health colleagues.”

Dr. James says right now they can print roughly 1,200 nasal swabs a day. Soon they will crank out 5,000 a day in an effort to assist the whole state of Georgia.

Nasal swabs are not the only thing being 3D printed at Augusta University. The Center for Instructional Innovation is also 3D printing PPE for hospital employees.

Photojournalist Gary Hipps

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