Interdepartmental team’s 3D nasal swab for COVID-19 testing saved lives

Dr. Jonathan Ford of the USF Health Department of Radiology holds the 3D printed nasal swab for COVID-19 testing

In the midst of a worldwide shortage of testing swabs a team led by Summer Decker, Ph.D., Director of 3D Applications in the USF Department of Radiology, pulled together and worked around the clock over a two-week period to create what has become a new standard of care in COVID-19 testing. Dr. Decker and USF Department of Radiology colleagues Todd Hazelton, Jonathan Ford, and Kyle Tatoris created and tested multiple versions until finding one that worked as good – or better – than the traditional swab used around the world. The team shared the technology freely with healthcare providers and urgently marshalled resources and formed partnerships so that millions could be manufactured and testing could be ramped up rapidly. For their incredible efforts in the face of a global emergency, the team has been awarded the first-ever Jack A. Kolosky Healthcare Innovator Award by the Tampa Innovation Partnership (!p).

The USF team, including Dr. Michael Teng and Dr. Kami Kim from USF Health’s Department of Internal Medicine worked with colleagues at Northwell Health – a leading healthcare provider in New York –  to create the initial design and prototype, then collaborated with Formlabs to optimize the design and maximize the number of swabs that could be printed. Realizing the urgency of the situation, the USF Technology Transfer Office made the patent-pending design files available to hospitals and universities free for the first year. Additionally, Formlabs and its affiliates were allowed to distribute the swabs royalty free with no license or patient fee charged. The Technology Transfer office went on to connect federal agencies lacking sufficient medical-grade 3D printing capabilities to Formlabs for production.

A process that normally takes years was completed in just two weeks

A process that normally takes years was completed in just two weeks, producing a swab that costs less than 30 cents each. Just in Tampa, 3,000 swabs a day were printed for USF Health and Tampa General Hospital with additional campus labs joining to print thousands more for providers like Moffitt Cancer Center. The innovation prompted by this emergency situation has been reported on CNBC; lauded by Ohio Governor Mike DeVine for helping his state in the fight against the disease; and even recognized by the White House. In the months since, the swab has been the subject of clinical trials determining it to be the new standard of care and will likely be a key life-saving  tool in the medical response to future pandemics.

“One of the impressive aspects of this effort is the urgency and agility with which they acted,” said Tampa !p Board of Directors Chairman, Chris Bowen. “This involved numerous departments within USF, partners in the private sector, and adherence to  federal safety and health regulations. It’s the kind of fast-moving, do-what-it-takes story that you usually hear from entrepreneurs creating disruptive innovation that has a positive outcome. The fact that USF achieved this, on such a grand multi-departmental and multi-jurisdictional scale, speaks highly of the innovative culture of that institution and represents the spirit we are proud of here in the Uptown Community & Innovation Quarter.”

The swab has been the subject of clinical trials determining it to be the new standard of care

Five finalists for the Jack A. Kolosky Healthcare Innovator Award made it to the top level for the judges’ final selection. In addition to the USF team, the other four finalists included Anna Giuliano, Ph.D., founding director of the Center for Immunization and Infection Research in Cancer (CIIRC) at Moffitt Cancer Center; Drs. Louis Harrison and Jason Fleming of Moffitt for their role in creating the First Connect program; the COVID Recovery Unit at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital; and Physician Medicine and Rehabilitation Department at the James A. Haley Veteran’s Hospital.

Dr. Giuliano was nominated for her work spearheading the testing of Gardasil among males to show that the vaccine prevents infection and HPV-related diseases in men just as it does females. Thanks to the work of Dr. Guiliano, neutral HPV vaccination is now available in 41 countries, which may – over time – lead to the elimination of six cancers caused by HPV that affect both men and women.

Louis Harrison, MD and Jason Fleming, MD of Moffitt Cancer Center were nominated for their role in creating the First Connect program – a new way of engaging with patients that begins with a strong, emotional and personal connection to a subject matter expert who provides comfort, reassurance, and guidance through the treatment process. Since creation of the program, more than 18,000 new patients have had First Connect visits and the program has resulted in improvement in overall patient satisfaction rates among other performance metrics.

One of two nominees from the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital is the COVID Recovery Unit (CRU) which quickly adjusted procedures to provide early intervention for COVID patients by converting rooms into negative pressure rooms, identifying needed supplies and resources, and educating staff. The CRU’s swift response provided life-saving early intervention for COVID-positive patients and freed up acute care beds for other patients who needed care.

Also nominated from the James A. Haley Veteran’s Hospital is the Physician Medicine and Rehabilitation Department for a number of interventions related to the COVID pandemic, including the implementation of a tele-rehab program for those still experiencing symptoms weeks after diagnosis. Programs implemented by the Physician Medicine and Rehabilitation Department have helped over 250 veterans and active-duty service members recover independently following diagnosis.

The award was presented at Tampa !p‘s Innovation Gathering on October 28th. Named for retired Moffitt Hospital President and long-time Tampa !p Executive Board member, Jack Kolosky, the Healthcare Innovation Award recognizes an individual or group in the Uptown Community & Innovation Quarter (“Uptown”) who has made a significant advancement in the delivery of healthcare.

“Jack Kolosky’s leadership and wise counsel has been instrumental in the establishment and operation of Tampa !p and contributed greatly to the development of Tampa’s Uptown as one of the nation’s top-tier Innovation Districts,” said Tampa !p Executive Director, Mark Sharpe. “I can’t think of a better way to recognize his contributions than presenting this award for healthcare innovation and the USF Health 3D Nasal Swab for COVID-19 Testing is a perfect example of what this innovation district is capable of.”