Wave after wave of urgently needed shipments of 3D-printed swabs used in COVID-19 test kits have been arriving at The Ohio State University since April 17, after a coalition of university scientists, engineers and manufacturers came together to combat the shortage of critical supplies in the state.
The collaborative effort was led by Ohio State’s Institute for Materials Research (IMR), and first included the Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence (CDME) and Infectious Diseases Institute.
The team worked to deliver an initial wave of 15,000 3D-printed nasopharyngeal swabs to The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, which is partnering with the Ohio Department of Health to increase the availability of supplies needed for testing citizens for COVID-19.
“Here, at Ohio State, we have the environment to take on these challenges, to meet these needs,” said IMR Director of Innovation Jay Sayre. “We have the people, the capabilities and the experience.”
The supplies were manufactured and distributed by Ohio-based firms Formlabs and Concordance Healthcare Solutions. The newly developed swabs are long and thin with a textured top. Health care providers use them to swab a person’s nasal cavity, then send each sample to the lab in a vial of transport medium where it is tested to see if the virus is present.
Inconsistent access to testing kits to detect the virus that causes the new coronavirus disease, COVID-19, is a dire problem in health care. A lack of testing impedes the ability to accurately identify patients for proper isolation and treatment, observe the spread of the virus and, in turn, reshape the disease curve.
As of the day of the swab’s delivery, nearly 77,700 Ohioans had been tested since the start of the coronavirus outbreak. Nearly 8,900 had been confirmed positive.
“Health systems worldwide have struggled because of the critical shortage of test kit components, including the swabs used to collect samples and the sterile solution needed to transport the swabs,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said April 15.
Ohio State Wexner Medical Center could foresee they would not be immune to those shortages either. The medical center urgently needed a solution; not just more test kits for its own needs, but a new supply chain capable of producing them for the Ohio Department of Health for further distribution throughout the state, as quickly as possible.
At Ohio State, help could be found in their own backyard.
In mid-March, Peter Mohler, Vice Dean of Research at the College of Medicine and Director of the Dorothy M. Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute, told IMR about the critical need for swabs.
The institute immediately brought in CDME and the Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI). IMR coordinated the teams, and defined the scope of the project and elements of production needed for rapid product development. CDME owned the management and coordination of manufacturing resources and external partnerships, while IDI covered clinical testing and management with medical professionals.
Before long, the trio was working with engineers, clinicians and staff from Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, the College of Medicine, the College of Engineering, the College of Dentistry and the Office of Research, as well as other centers, institutes and departments at Ohio State.
“Almost every faculty member and researcher on campus who can is running toward the problem,” said Nate Ames, Executive Director of CDME. “There is a war going on against the coronavirus, and this is the battlefield where I can make an impact.”
But collaborators knew the fight wasn’t bound to Ohio State.
Early into investigating swab manufacturing options, researchers pounced on an opportunity to join a burgeoning academic-industry-government consortium being led by Harvard University, with contributors that include the U.S. Army, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and University of South Florida.
Through the group, Ohio State connected with Formlabs, a leading manufacturer of 3D printing systems, and Concordance Healthcare Solutions, one of the six national medical supply distributors working with FEMA on PPE and other national supply needs.
And, as luck would have it, both were based right here, in Ohio.
The two firms worked together with Northwell Health, New York’s largest healthcare provider, and the University of South Florida to lock down the design and production of the swabs.
Clinicians from Ohio State Wexner Medical Center and experts from IDI raced to test their samples and relay data back to engineers working with IMR and CDME.
“The key factor to success was having all the experts within Ohio State that could be mobilized quickly into a medical device ‘dream team,’” said Seth Faith, Strategic Alliance Officer at IDI. “You tend to see these types of skunkworks for rapid innovation within large industry, but due to Ohio State’s investments in technical research Centers and Institutes — like IDI, CDME and IMR — we had our team assembled within a day and executing interdisciplinary work by sun-down. This type of collaboration and mobilization during a crisis are exactly why units like ours are essential. Real-world problems require interdisciplinary teams that are well-poised to work together.”
With the green light from Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, row after row of 3D printers kicked on and ran around the clock in the Formlabs facility in Millbury, Ohio.
Next, the College of Dentistry carried out the crucial step of repackaging the bulk shipments into individual swabs, then sterilizing each one before sending them on to the medical center for kitting with vials of transport medium.
“Treating patients, restarting our economy, bringing people back together again – all of these rely on our ability to manage this virus. And to manage it, we must know where it is,” said Julie Amling, Director of Purchasing Operations at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. “Without these swabs, testing across our state simply could not be done. The medical center is incredibly grateful for the service this team has provided.”
IMR continues to engage in a myriad of ongoing efforts and explore new opportunities to combat the effects and spread of the coronavirus. Learn more here.
“It’s just truly amazing to see this effort, an all-Ohio effort, come together that transcends science for the benefit of all,” Sayre said.
Formlabs and Concordance continue to produce and deliver thousands of swabs each week.
DeWine described the initiative as “Ohioans coming together to solve a problem,” an example of “Ohio ingenuity.”
Story by Mike Huson, IMR Public Relations
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