At a time when India is facing severe shortage of testing kits to screen patients and confirm cases of coronavirus (COVID-19), a team of doctors and researchers has developed a cost-effective polymer swab used to collect samples from patients.
Led by Milind Kulkarni of Centre of Materials for Electronics Technology (CMET) in Pune, these polymer swabs were designed and readied within a week in collaboration with teams from Rangadore Hospital and Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc) in Bengaluru, along with a 3D printing society based in Mumbai.
As per the guidelines of the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the swab is used for collecting a sample from the upper respiratory tract.
“The fibres are made of compounds from the polyester family whereas the stick is made of polypropylene material. If this succeeds, the cost could be made one-third of the current cost,” said Kulkarni, group head of the nanocomposite laboratory at CMET.
As per prescribed norms, a COVID-19 test kit comprises a tube of Universal Transport Media (UTM), a Nasopharyngeal swab, a Ziplock specimen bag and an ice pack, along with the lab requisite form. The Union government has set the maximum price for this kit at Rs 4,500.
However, the polymer swabs are imported from European countries like Italy and Germany, making it both costlier and in the present situation, difficult to procure.
“We have demonstrated prototypes of 10 to 12 polymer swabs and they will undergo clinical trials. With the help of an automated machine, one can manufacture upto 2,000 polymer swabs in a minute,” added Kulkarni.
According to Dr KN Sridhar, urologist and director of Sri Research for Tissue Engineering in Bengaluru, India will need a million such testing kits in the coming months.
“A testing kit is incomplete without these polymer swabs,” said Dr Sridhar, who added that once the prototype is delivered to his team, it would need no time to validate the efficacy of the polymer swab.
Once received, the Bengaluru team at Cancyte Tech Pvt Ltd will use the samples to verify if this indigeneously-built swab can pick the virus like the swabs that are presently in use. This lab is among the handful of private testing laboratories in Karnataka that has been approved by Indian Council for Medical Research to perform COVID-19 related tests.
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