Wyss-designed swabs enter human trials for COVID-19

Researchers at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, in collaboration with health care, research, and industrial partners, have designed a new, fully injection-molded nasopharyngeal swab that can be manufactured quickly and inexpensively at high volume to help address the nationwide and international shortage of swabs for COVID-19 testing and research.

The swabs are moving into human trials at SUNY Downstate Medical Center and Translational Genomics arch Institute (TGen), an affiliate of City of Hope, which should be completed by the end of next week, and are in preclinical evaluation at six additional hospitals.

Data from the two trials will be used to inform larger trials with COVID-19 patients, and California-based medical device manufacturer IPB, Inc. has been working around the clock to ramp up production of the new swabs to reach 200,000 per day by May 15.

“Experts have recently estimated that the United States needs to more than triple the number of daily COVID-19 tests in order for the country to be safely reopened by mid-May, but the current swabs are complicated to make, and producers just don’t have the ability to increase production to that level in such a short period of time,” said Richard Novak, a senior staff engineer at the Wyss Institute who has been leading the multi-institutional effort to develop a fully injection-molded swab, working with the Wyss Institute’s Founding Director Donald Ingber.

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The project began just over a month ago when clinician-researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) reached out to Ingber asking for help to solve the hospital’s swab shortage as the COVID-19 pandemic was blossoming. Ingber, Novak, and a team of Wyss researchers joined the multidisciplinary effort, quickly realizing that not only could they design a swab replacement, the Wyss Institute’s unique position at the intersection of academia and industry meant that it could bring together clinicians who needed swabs, researchers who were developing them, and manufacturers who could rapidly produce them at low cost, streamlining the process to get the swabs into the hands of doctors and nurses as quickly as possible.

“The Wyss Institute site on the Longwood campus is physically connected to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, so it makes sense that they would think of the Wyss Institute as an innovation partner with the capability to solve this type of open-ended problem,”

said Ingber, who is also the the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, and professor of bioengineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). “We were in the midst of figuring out how to shift our staff to work remotely while also starting new COVID-19-related research efforts at the Institute; but the shortage of swabs is such a pressing problem that the decision to help solve it was a no-brainer.”

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Harvard Gazette

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