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A New Design of Nasal Swab


NU 2020-078


Matthew Grayson*
Jun Peng
Jiaxing Huang
Guillermo Ameer
Nancy Rivera Bolanos


Design of a low-cost and efficiently fabricated alternate nasal swab for COVID-19 and other viral testing


The 2020 COVID-19 global pandemic has put tremendous stress on the healthcare supply chain and patient diagnostic workflow for viral testing.  Testing on a massive scale in both domestic and international communities will require sufficient monitoring to contain the pandemic. But due to dire shortages in testing supplies, availability of testing has been limited due those with severe symptoms in a number of states.  In addition, the workflow for reliable large-scale testing is currently limited by one-on-one appointments between patients and healthcare professionals.  To systematically stem the COVID-19 pandemic, a higher volume of individuals, symptomatic or asymptomatic, need to have access to testing.  


Northwestern researchers have collaborated to design a new nasal swab using industrially available medical-grade materials to enable the mass production of extremely inexpensive swabs in a very short period of time with a design that may also facilitate self-administration of viral tests.  In vitro tests of these swabs have proven reliable, and after successful clinical testing, a massive supply of such swabs could potentially remove the critical supply bottleneck of swabs from the testing workflow.  The new design allows for collecting and releasing a biological sample into saline liquid for testing using standard protocols.  With a high surface area-to-volume ratio, the new swab tip design transfers all of the sample into the saline solution for testing, thereby increasing the testable concentration of virus that reaches the saline solution.  In contrast, standard swabs offer either a lower absolute surface area limiting the sample collection, or a lower surface area-to-volume ratio which lets the sample absorb deeper into the swab instead of releasing into the solution.  Unlike standard swabs which must be snapped at the break-point using sanitary gloves, this swab has a mechanism so that the swab tip, alone, can be released from the swab and deposited inside the test tube for delivery to the testing site.  Because of this feature, the swab stem can be handled with bare hands, eliminating the need for sanitary gloves during sample collection, and potentially making stay-at-home self-administered tests far less complicated and more reliable.



  • Production of nasal swab
  • Substitute for current diagnostic swab in clinical settings
  • Introduction of diagnostic swab for self-administered settings



  • Extreme low cost
  • Swab tip release feature allows stem to be handled with bare hands
  • High speed, high volume production



  • Prototypes generated.
  • Successful in vitro testing at Northwestern Medicine.
  • In communication with Northwestern Memorial Hospital for clinical sampling.  
  • In communication with medical manufacturer for high volume production.

A provisional patent application has been filed.
Matthew Grayson, PhD
Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering




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A prototype of new designed nasal swab

Patent Information: