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UofL working on solution to swab shortage amid COVID-19 outbreak

Louisville's School of Dentistry is using 3D printers to make swabs used in coronavirus test kits.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The University of Louisville has used 3D printers to create respirators, masks and ventilators, but now, the school is working to help meet the demand of swabs in COVID-19 test kits.

The school said they are hoping to print 385 swabs in less than an hour.

"If you can't get a swab to get a sample then it's kind of no point to have all the other parts of it," Dr. Gerald Grant with the School of Dentistry said. 

While the school's 3D printing lab is usually creating dental implants and crowns, this week they are printing up to 2,000 3D swabs to fill the gap in test kits.

"We've already gone through the design phase, we tested the materials we want to use and we are ready to go into patient trial," Grant said. "This is fast, this doesn't move as quickly and the reason it is working this way is because of all the collaboration everyone had."

The new swabs project started about two weeks ago. Grant said it was powered by students and prosthetic residents. Once they have a design, they share it with the School of Engineering for feedback. It only takes minutes if they need to tweak it.

"They look at it and tell me if they don't like this or they don't like that, and then I go back to the designer and usually he gets back to me within five minutes with another design," Grant said.

Before moving forward, the swab's physical characteristics and performance have to work. 

"It has to be flexible so it's not going to break off of a patient because it's not brittle," Grant said. "The other thing, it has to be a certain length so that whoever is doing the test can use a non-sterile glove." 

UofL plans to share the manufacturing process with other companies across the state and with groups online to speed up testing and the availability of test kits.

Clinical trials of the 3D printed swabs are expected to start by the end of this week. If the results are good, the swabs will be ready for widespread use as early as the beginning of next month.

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RELATED: UofL Health tests over 300 patients, 36 positive for COVID-19 at drive-thru site

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