UVA-Designed COVID-19 Swab to Support High-Priority Testing Across Virginia

UVA hospital at night

Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications

The Commonwealth of Virginia will receive 60,000 nasopharyngeal swabs weekly to support high-priority COVID-19 testing across the state, thanks to a collaboration led by University of Virginia faculty to design this key testing supply. 

A total of 75,000 swabs are slated for production each week, with 15,000 swabs remaining at UVA Health to support testing at the health system.

“There have been critical shortages across Virginia and across the country of nasopharyngeal swabs for COVID-19 testing,” said Dr. Amy Mathers, associate director of clinical microbiology at UVA, whose lab can perform up to 750 tests per day. “These swabs will allow our supply chain team to focus on other areas where testing supplies remain limited.”

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Mathers worked with a group that included William Guilford, a biomedical engineer in the UVA School of Engineering, and local engineer Andy Homyk to design the swabs as part of a University- and community-wide effort to produce needed medical supplies.

“The unusually strong spirit of collaboration that we enjoy at UVA was immeasurably helpful when it came to meeting this challenge,” Guilford said. “We all understood the importance of working together to get this done, and to do it right.”

Beginning with a 3D-printed swab prototype, the team switched gears to create an injection-molded plastic swab that Mathers successfully tested for safety and effectiveness in a clinical trial at UVA Medical Center. 

With approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, UVA is working with private companies to manufacture, sterilize and package the swabs for use. Other hospitals and health systems could replicate the swab’s design and begin using them after conducting a similar clinical trial at their own facility, Mathers said. Along with their use for COVID-19 testing, nasopharyngeal swabs are also critical for influenza testing.

“We are proud to support the Commonwealth of Virginia’s COVID-19 testing efforts, which are a key element in battling this pandemic,” said Dr. K. Craig Kent, UVA’s executive vice president for health affairs. “I am very appreciative of the hard work of this UVA team to develop this vital testing supply, which will also support UVA’s ongoing testing efforts in communities around the Charlottesville area.”

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