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WVU to produce thousands of swabs for COVID-19 testing

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MORGANTOWN, WV – The Innovation Hub at West Virginia University’s Statler College of Engineering is working toward churning out 10,000 swabs weekly to meet the state’s COVID-19 testing needs.

This is according to a press release from the University, which started the production of swabs went in effect following a request from the West Virginia National Guard to ramp up testing.

The swabs resemble flexible Q-tips, the release stated. Gene Cilento, the director of the Innovation Hub and a WVU professor, said the Hub is using 3D printers to manufacture the swabs.

One of the 3D printers used at the Innovation Hub
Gene Cilento

Just to set the record straight, we are producing upward of 2,000 a day and we just started the production after the Memorial Day Weekend, so Tuesday. We’re only just starting the core production right now, we have five of the six printers going, one printer needs a cleaning of the tank, so we had to wait.

Gene Cilento – Director, Innovation Hub

Cilento added the original goal of the Hub was to create outside of the classroom space where students, researchers, and others could design and manufacture prototypes, but once the pandemic hit they switched gears.

“When the pandemic hit everything shut down, but we said ‘hey, there’s a need to make PPE type related stuff for the hospital’,” Cilento said. “We have a really good relationship with the Health Sciences Center, the people there, the doctors and the clinics, cardiovascular, neurosciences, ophthalmology, dentistry.”

The Innovation Hub also has a relationship with WVU Medicine. Dr. Peter Perrotta, the system director of pathology services at WVU Medicine, said there is an exciting partnership between WVU Medicine and the Statler College. He said some of the swabs produced will go to WVU Medicine and that the Hub has worked closely with medical professionals from the hospital system to perfect their product.

Dr. Peter Perrotta

Perrotta said other manufacturers around the nation are using 3D printing to manufacture swabs because there is a shortage.

“We are still very short on the swabs that are needed to collect samples for testing from the back of the nose and the back of the throat,” Perrotta said. “These swabs are going to be critical to ensuring that we will be able to continue our testing across the state.”

When asked if swabs are key for controlling the virus outbreak, Perrotta said it all depends. He said it depends on how the disease progresses and if there is a resurgence of infections in the fall and winter.

Cilento said right now the Hub has enough material to make 10,000 swabs, but ultimately they would like to produce several hundred thousand or even more over the course of the next few months.

“This has been very exciting to work with the engineering group,” Perrotta said. “This has been a great collaboration between WVU Medicine and WVU and we’ve also been very happy with the help that we’ve received from the state and Dr. Marsh’s office.”

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