University of South Florida

USF Health, Northwell Health, Tampa General and Formlabs earn national recognition for 3D-printed nasal swab used in pandemic

The invention that was shared with the world: Experts came together quickly in early 2020 to create a 3D-printed nasopharyngeal swab. Today, more than 100 million swabs have been produced across the globe using this USF-patented design, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is honoring the USF Health team Feb. 16, 2023.

The University of South Florida (USF) has been awarded the Patents for Humanity award by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for its patent of the 3D-printed nasopharyngeal (NP) swab, created in the early part of the pandemic as a solution to the disrupted commercial production of standard flocked NP swabs critical in diagnostic testing for COVID-19.

USF is among an exclusive group of winners receiving this year’s Patents for Humanity awards, being named alongside the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the NIH, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Gilead Sciences Inc., and Caron Products. All will be honored by the USPTO at an awards ceremony on February 16, 2023.

USF is earning this recognition for its innovative solution to the commercial NP swab shortage. Due to the urgent need worldwide, the 3D-printed NP swab team decided to forgo monetization of their invention and provided the design files and clinical data at no cost to hospitals, clinics and licensed medical device companies around the world as long as the swabs were produced for their own use.

Over the span of one week in March 2020, teams from USF Health, Northwell Health, Tampa General Hospital, and Formlabs worked together to develop a 3D printed swab prototype using Formlabs’ 3D printers and biocompatible (not harmful), autoclavable materials (able to withstand elevated temperature and pressure of an autoclave). The prototypes were then benchmarked against standard flocked swabs for viral sample retention in the laboratory and tested for patient safety and comfort by USF Health Morsani College of Medicine Department of Internal Medicine researchers. After passing these tests, the teams initiated a multisite clinical trial at dozens of hospital sites across the United States, including Tampa General Hospital, Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York, and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, comparing performance of the 3D-printed nasopharyngeal swabs with flocked swabs.

From that point on, the USF/Northwell design was shared with hospitals, health systems, the military, and clinics around the globe. To date, the USF-patented design for the 3D-printed nasopharyngeal swab has been shared with institutions in more than 60 countries that have produced more than 100 million swabs.

“I am so proud of how our USF Health team stepped forward to combine their expertise and innovation with the teams from Tampa General Hospital, Formlabs and Northwell Health to help save lives around the world,” said Charles J. Lockwood, MD, MHCM, executive vice president for USF Health and dean of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, and executive vice president and chief academic officer at Tampa General Hospital. “This recognition by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office validates both the tremendous power of academic medicine, especially during a crisis, and the values and commitment these teams have for contributing to the greater good.”

“Our goal from the start was to help as many people as possible, as fast and safely as possible,” said Summer Decker, PhD, professor in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, and director for 3D Clinical Applications in USF Health’s Department of Radiology, who led the 3D printed NP swab team. “In order to do that, we assembled a team of experts in our fields and worked together toward a real-world solution. We then made our files public so that any hospital, clinic or health system could print them for their own facilities and get them to the frontline of COVID-19 testing in patients. Only when you know what you are truly facing, in this case COVID-19, can you actually fight it. This swab was a critical, missing component of the global medical community’s ability to do just that. We are very humbled by this recognition by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for our efforts and very grateful for this incredible opportunity to help not just USF Health and Tampa General Hospital, but also other hospitals and medical centers throughout the world.”

“COVID-19 demanded innovation and collaboration, not only from those on the front lines but across industries,” said Todd Goldstein, PhD, director of 3D Design and Innovation at Northwell Health. “It’s an honor to receive this recognition from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and we hope that our 3D printed nasal swab design helped alleviate burden during the height of the pandemic and showed what cooperation, even in times of crisis, can achieve.”

“We were proud to unite with USF Health, Formlabs and Northwell Health to work quickly and collaboratively to save lives during the height of COVID-19 when swabs were in short supply and in such high demand,” said John Couris, president and CEO of Tampa General Hospital. “This recognition is a true testament to not only the power of academic medicine, but the hard work, sacrifice, innovative spirit and perseverance of our clinical teams and their ability to act quickly and think strategically. We are thankful for the partnerships we developed with other health leaders to find innovative and cost-effective solutions to protect the health of our region and beyond.”

“With quick thinking and action from USF Health, the global shortage of traditional nasopharyngeal swabs was minimized with an entirely 3D printable design that could be easily printed in health care facilities around the world,” said Gaurav Manchanda, director of Medical Market Development at Formlabs. “We were honored to help in this effort and pleased to see the reliability, scalability, and accessibility of our 3D printing solutions put into action. By combining the centralized quality, regulatory, and medical manufacturing expertise at Formlabs with a decentralized production network of global medical customers, local health institutions were able to print and use millions of swabs needed during the shortage. Formlabs is proud to be recognized alongside USF Health, Northwell Health, and Tampa General Hospital in the USPTO Patents for Humanity COVID-19 category.”

The team that created the USF-patented 3D printed nasal swab, from left, Jonathan Ford, Kami Kim, John Sinnott, Summer Decker, Todd Goldstein, and Michael Teng. Not pictured is Todd Hazelton.

— Video and photos by Allison Long, USF Health Communications

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