COVID-19 News

Army teams with Harvard to evaluate COVID-19 nasal swab prototypes

US Army scientists and engineers have been working with Harvard University to design, prototype and evaluate new COVID-19 nasal swabs to address the current shortage and assess possibilities for large-scale production of new swab configurations.

The nasopharyngeal swabs, which reach through the nasal passage to the throat to check for the virus, are being assessed at the CCDC Soldier Center Testing Lab at Natick Soldier Center in Massachusetts.

The Army’s CCDC is collaborating with Harvard and Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of nasopharyngeal swab prototypes produced by industry, not only to identify new commercially available nasal swabs for diagnostic testing but to also ensure that they can be mass-produced and distributed, given the pressing demand.

“Our engineers' work is focused on developing a test protocol for Harvard to ensure that alternate swab designs can be properly evaluated to ensure safety and effectiveness. This is critical as a swab that would break in the patient's nasal passage would have to be surgically removed,” David Accetta, Chief, Public Affairs, U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC) Soldier Center, Army Futures Command, told Warrior Maven in a written statement.

Some of the prototypes under evaluation were produced using additive manufacturing, or 3D-printing techniques.

“Prototypes were rapidly produced (24 hours) and delivered to Harvard University and BIDMC for evaluation of the ability to apply nylon fiber and sterilize as well as suitability for use,” Matt Hurley, a CCDC Soldier Center mechanical engineer working on the effort, told Warrior Maven. “We are conducting tensile and torsional testing to compare the mechanical properties of printed swabs that were reasonably similar to the commercial-off-the-shelf solutions, to prevent the swabs posing a risk of failure while in use within a patient's nasopharynx.”

While the effort is currently high-priority and fast-tracked, some of the new swab configurations will need quick Food and Drug Administration approval before being distributed, so an exact timetable for when they might be available is not precisely clear. However, developers are optimistic that something new could be ready quickly.

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