A team of researchers has developed a low-cost indigenous prototype of polymer swab which can be used for collection of samples for coronavirus testing. If it is approved for production, the country will not need to depend on imported swabs, said Dr Milind Kulkarni, a senior polymer scientist with Pune-based Centre for Materials for Electronics Technology (C-MET) on Saturday.
"We import testing kits and polymer swabs primarily from Italy, Germany and the United States. But due to import restrictions and international lockdown, we could soon face a shortage of these kits," said Kulkarni, who led the project.
It was a joint project of C-MET (which comes under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology), SRI Research FOR Tissue Engineering Private, Rangadore Hospital, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru and Additive Manufacturing Society of India, he said.
As per the guidelines of the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, polymer swab is used for collection of a sample from the upper respiratory tract of a patient.
To develop prototype of the swab, the researchers used a speciality polymer from polyester family and a rod made up of Polypropylene, Kulkarni said.
"Prototype samples are ready to go for further sterilization and clinical trial and testing," he added. Dr K N Shridhar, urologist from Rangadore Hospital in Bangaluru, had given the responsibility to develop the polymer swab to CMET, Kulkarni said.
"Dr Shridhar will conduct testing of the swabs by tying up with a lab which is approved by the Indian Council for Medical Research in Bengaluru," he added.
CMET has developed two types of swabs which are required to collect samples, he said.
One is nasopharyngeal swab (NP swab) which is used for collecting nasal secretions and other is Oropharyngeal swab which is used for collecting throat samples, he said.
Once samples are taken, the swab is inserted into a tube of Universal Transport Media (UTM). Kulkarni said that as it is a one-time use kit, India will need millions of such swabs to collect samples in the days to come.
The swabs developed by his team could cost a third of the price of imported swabs, he said. "Using a special automated machine, 1000 to 2000 swabs can be made in one minute," he claimed.
The number of coronavirus infection cases in the country had crossed 3,250 as of Saturday late afternoon.