Radio Cade

3D Nasal Swabs

March 24, 2021 Dr. Summer Decker Season 3 Episode 30
Radio Cade
3D Nasal Swabs
Show Notes Transcript

Nasal swabs, something many people had never heard of until COVID, suddenly became very hard to get just two weeks into the pandemic. Dr. Summer Decker and her team at the University of South Florida quickly determined they could make the swabs on a 3D printer. After making the printed swabs FDA compliant, Decker was able to share the design for free with the world.  Since then more than 60 million such swabs have been used in global COVID testing.   "One of our emergency room physicians told me," said Dr. Decker, "we are fighting a war and you gave us the bullets."  


Intro:

Inventors and their inventions. Welcome to radio K to podcast from the Cade museum for creativity and invention in Gainesville, Florida. The museum is named after James Robert Cade, who invented Gatorade in 1965. My name is Richard Miles. We'll introduce you to inventors and the things that motivate them, we'll learn about their personal stories, how their inventions work and how their ideas get from the laboratory to the marketplace.

Richard Miles:

3D nasal swab, a phrase that doesn't roll off the tongue quickly and not the name of an indie band, but it has helped tremendously in COVID testing since the beginning of the pandemic. Welcome to Radio Cade. I'm your host Richard Miles. And today I'm pleased to welcome Dr. Summer Decker , Vice Chair for Research and Director, the 3D clinical applications at the University of South Florida's Morsani College of Medicine. Welcome to Radio Cade, Dr. Decker .

Dr. Summer Decker:

Thank you so much for having me I'm looking forward to this.

Richard Miles:

Well , the first thing I got to ask is what's up with Tampa. You guys are hitting it out of the park. Down there you're one yourself, and now you have world-class research institutions. There's something in the water. What is it about.

Dr. Summer Decker:

Beautiful Tampa Bay, we attract some top sports talent as you will have seen in the last few months here with our Lightening and the Buccaneers and even our soccer team and our baseball team. And , uh , yeah, it's been an exciting year for us here in Tampa, especially during COVID when things have been so tough, we all needed a little bit of cheer. So I think it's the Tampa Bay water.

Richard Miles:

I've got to say since we've started the Cade Museum project right away, USF University of South Florida came to our attention as just being this very innovative forward thinking research university that kind of started with humble origins, but man, you guys are doing pretty amazing things now.

Dr. Summer Decker:

Well, I appreciate that. I was lucky enough actually, to do my doctorate here. And one of the things they really do train us on here at the medical school is to think differently about solutions to problems that maybe have been occurring for some time. And so I like to say we're young and scrappy because we realized we're up and coming university or up and coming medical school. And so we have that liberty of not having to been, Oh, this is the way we've always done it. That we can actually look at things differently and use technology in different ways. And so that's really what we train. And even as a student here as , okay, you have the way it's always been done, but how would you do it differently? And it lends that intellectual freedom if you will. So that's actually what attracted me here to come to USF. I had heard that too, and I'm proud to been able to stay here and hopefully train the next generation of physicians to think the same way.

Richard Miles:

You're doing great things. One of the first people we reached out to when we started the Cade Museum, the Cade Prize was the Paul Sandberg.

Dr. Summer Decker:

Oh yeah, Dr. Sandberg.

Richard Miles:

Yeah. The Florida Inventors Hall of Fame and their attitude was like, sure, we'll help you. And they didn't know us from Adam. So we were pretty impressed with that. Obviously it shows at the USF, the whole philosophy there. So Dr. Decker a year ago, I would have had to explain what exactly a nasal swab is and why they're important. And now I'd say probably just about everyone has had at least one COVID test and we all know what they do, but I do have to admit that I had never heard of a 3D nasal swab until I heard of the one that you all developed. So let's start by you walking me through why a 3D nasal swab became necessary, how they differ from a conventional swab and how do you make them exactly?

Dr. Summer Decker:

A lot of great questions and I'll try to keep my answers brief as possible. I think this interview is time so perfectly because this really did start out about a year ago, March 17th was the day we invented the 3D printed nasal swab. And the reason we focused on that is that when the rest of the country was trying to get tested, we were trying to figure out how many people in the us do actually have COVID. The first thing we started noticing was their PPE shortages. There were shortages and supplies and testing kits. And so part of that shortage was a supply chain disruption that was occurring with the nasal swab. That is part of the COVID testing kit. And this is actually one here I have on video. It's a plastic device that has a little bit of a fuzzy tip on it. The problem, the reason there was a supply chain disruption is that these are actually manufactured in Italy. And as we'll recall , back for a year ago, Italy had shut down completely. And so we really didn't have no ability to get extra supplies. The backup site was in China and so China was shut down as well. So this actually presents a situation that we had never been in before. Okay. Now, where do you get your supplies? And so here at USF, I was actually in surgery about to hand off a 3D print . And my team does the 3D printing here at Tampa General and University of South Florida Radiology. And so we are handing in case off in surgery to this trauma patient and the surgeon , when I got a message that we were short nasal supplies. So the nasal swabs , and it started sticking in my head thinking all of the other PPE, those are things that I know other groups can do that nasal swab was of interest to me because there was going to be a lot of diagnostic value to that. That was going to obviously be what tells us if you have COVID or not. So that was going to have to come out of a medical school, a medical center, a hospital. And how do you make up for that supply chain? And I run a 3D lab. So we went back immediately started seeing, could we replicate that using a 3D printer?

Richard Miles:

Yeah , I'm going to reveal my ignorance here, but I thought that nasal swab was really just like a really big Q-tip. So I think it's probably more complicated than that in order for it to work for COVID because obviously you can't just use anything.

Dr. Summer Decker:

No so that's what made it tricky with COVID was that the traditional Q-tip that you're talking about, even the things that you've seen, maybe if you've had strep throat or something with the cotton and the wood actually interferes and the test and the PCR test, you've probably all heard about the PCR test that's out there. So we have to use a specific type of swab that doesn't interfere in that test and cause a complication. And so the current standard of care swab was a plastic kind of a nylon version with this fuzzy blocked tip on the end to be able to capture a sample. So we really got one of the last samples that they had at the hospital, and we started looking at it and we said, could we actually replicate that using a 3D printer? And it was myself, our technical director, Dr. Jonathan Ford, one of our radiologists, Dr. Todd Hazelton , who specializes in the pulmonary airway . So the lungs and the airways and all of us started looking at it and saying, I think we have some ideas. We ran literally down the hall to our colleagues in infectious disease and told them we have an idea. We're going to try to 3D print you nasal swabs. And we've come up with a bunch of designs working with our colleagues here, and some colleagues on main campus. We just put out a call saying, does anyone have any design ideas? And so we were able to narrow it down to three different ones and the infectious disease team brave to the end. They actually tested them on themselves first. What was most comfortable? We wanted to make sure that we could get enough sample for the test, but also make sure it was patient comfortable and patients safe. And so this is actually what we were able to come up with here. I have a printed version of it. And so there's some ridges on the edge that way we could actually make sure we had enough surface area to capture the sample and also a softer tip on the end so that you don't damage any of the tissues. I know a lot of people were concerned about why was it a nasal pharyngeal swab because that region and your face is quite far back, you hear them call brain ticklers and all kinds of different things. But that is actually where the first place that COVID really set in. So it was one of the earliest spots that you can detect COVID. And so that was why it was very, very important to work with infectious disease, neurology, and radiology together to come up with the best safest tool, to be able to capture a sample on March 20th, we went to a bench lab testing. She means we went and tested it in the lab. We were able to have viral samples and our neurology team here worked night and day to be able to test it, make sure that it was able to detect a virus, make sure also that it held a virus. We knew it was going to be some time between people's tests and when it could be actually ran and all of those things that passed by that Monday, we went to clinical trial.

Richard Miles:

Wow . So just to refresh for listeners in case anyone has a bad memory of the last year, March 11th, which is exactly a year ago, we're recording this on March 11th, 2021. And so March 11 , 2020, I think that was the day when everything shut down the major sports leagues, churches, businesses, restaurants. And so you're talking really a little over a week after that, where basically you were ready to go with something that you could submit to FDA for approval. Is that about right?

Dr. Summer Decker:

That is right. And the reason we knew we could use this material was in our clinical practice here at the hospital. We make anatomical models. We make surgical cutting guides to really help surgeons plan their cases. They're really tricky cases. We really do get like the most complex cases that the hospital gets. And so we have materials that have already been cleared by the FDA. We have computers that are FDA cleared for us to be able to do that work in our normal day job, we have printers that are actually medical grade printers that we knew were FDA cleared to be able to do that. And then we had the surgical grade material that had already been cleared. So while standing in surgery, I started thinking, Oh, we can actually kind of jump to the end point if it works, because we've already been cleared all these different steps. And so that's why it was very important to me to use the printer that we used, the materials that we used and also the medical team, because the first things the FDA said was that because it's a crisis situation has to come from a medical center or licensed device medical manufacturers. And so not just anyone could go out and print, like you'd be at a printer at home. These were going to be diagnostic tools. Meaning they're going to be used to tell you if you have COVID . So there was a high stakes situation. And so I got so many really sweet emails and stuff from around the world of elementary schools wanting to help print and the local aquariums wanting to help, but it really had to be a medical team doing it for it to be able to be used as a test. And this is what this hospital here, we printed for this hospital for Tampa General Hospital here, Moffitt Cancer Center, the VA hospitals here locally in Tampa Bay. And the reason we were able to do that is because we tested it here. We went through a very large clinical trial. That was a multi-site national clinical trial. And we went and lightspeed to be able to confirm it. We worked directly with Northwell Hhealth, our colleagues up in New York, they were in the middle of the peak of them up there and they had no test kits. So they were wonderful to work with as well as Thomas Jefferson University Medical Center. So all of us working together and that's, what's so exciting about this. All of these teams working together as fast as we could just to be able to bring this quickly to the medical teams in their hands. And one of our emergency room physicians has told me we are fighting a war and you gave us the bullets. And basically we were able to tell them if a patient was safe, we were able to keep them safe and keep our hospitals functioning by giving them test kits .

Richard Miles:

Right. That's an important point you made just as a side note about FDA approval and most people aren't familiar with, [inaudible] getting approval for new invention and why should they be? It's a very short chain process, but I think the term of art is predicate technology, right? Where if you're coming up with a new device of any sort, if all the components or some of the components of that device have already been approved by the FDA, it's a much less onerous process because really you're just taking pre-approved materials. You're putting them together in a new way. And in theory, the FDA should just go. Yep. Yep, yep. You're good to go. And it sounds like that's what happened in this case.

Dr. Summer Decker:

So the FDA, we worked with them every single week and not to get too technical. It's a class one exempt medical device. So they recognize it's a medical device, but it's not one that they regulated. So what you just said is exactly what was important. Is it been done on materials that are cleared by us? Is it been done on printers, cleared by us and has it been thoroughly vetted? And that's why it was really important for us to do a full trial. There were so many people when the news broke that we were doing this, I woke up one night to 4,000 emails from around the world and people wanting their hands on it. And we had to make sure that no matter what pressures that were external, and we knew that people like in New York City had no test kits. We were lucky not to be in that position here at Tampa and just yet, but we were all very stressed about making sure we did our due diligence to make this the best clinical trial follow all of the standards that we knew in our normal practice when it's not in a crisis situation. So we all felt the pressure to get it done quickly, but we also knew we had to do what we normally would do.

Richard Miles:

If you wake up and theres 4,000 emails waiting for you either you've done something great or you're in really big trouble, right. Whether you've won the Nobel Prize or something bad has happened. So Dr. Decker, there was one point you made that I want to come back to. And that's about, even though the process was relatively simple in terms of assembly, you still have to be able to have a medical grade printer and the supporting materials. Is that something now that is more or less standard at most hospitals or is that really mostly research hospitals are going to have that kind of equipment standing by?

Dr. Summer Decker:

Well , what a great question. So there are well over a hundred 3D printing teams like ours here, and most of the major hospitals that you'll see out there and I'm lucky to work with all of them. We actually have a little network and within our radiology society, we have a group of us so that we can all communicate about different cases, that we're seeing new technology, new materials, we have great relationships with industry so that we can see what's coming out. I really actually have a voice in what comes out. The 3D printers that we use are often the same printers that aeronautics and the film industry, the automotive industry uses, but with different end points and purposes. And so some of the printers that we use have specific medical grade materials, because we're all trying to get to as close as we can to human tissues. And so that's why we have really special needs and special interest . And so you're seeing more and more of these hospitals and teams like ours coming on board because we're able to help with, as I mentioned, these really complex cases. I mean, if you knew your surgeon was about to walk in, but he or she's practiced on this 3D heart on the print and can tell you exactly what devices he's going to use, what size devices, all of that stuff in advance, or able to actually really reduce medical error and medical risk . I can tell you one of our cases with some cranio facial work that we do in our trauma teams here, we've been able to take surgeries that are normally 11 hour surgeries and get them down to three hours because we're handing them a print. That is the exact, what they need to go in there. So not only does that reduce the operating time of that room and the surgeons being there, but for the patient, the patient risk of being under anesthesia, that long the risk of infection and let's face it, we are all fighting the American medical system in costs. And so cost is something that you want to be able to do as well. So we're able to reduce the time the cost and the risk of error by using 3D prints of patient's specific anatomy and being able to create solutions specific to a patient. So cutting guides and things like that. It's a really nice technology to have in a hospital. And it's important for it to be in the hospital so that we can move very quickly. I never know who's coming through the door behind me and what cases about to happen. So.

Richard Miles:

So you have an entire lab and staff that sits around and wonders what you can do to help people with 3D printers, which for a lot of people, that's your dream job description. So what else do you have in the pipeline? What are you working on now at your lab or that you know of that's being worked on that could be a breakthrough procedure process say next few years.

Dr. Summer Decker:

So things that we're working on eminently , we worked directly, as I mentioned with industry to come up with better biomimetic or mimicking tissues. So we are working every single day, including just even today on creating tissue and a printer that feels like that heart, that feels like a face. And we work with a craniofacial facial team here and they can actually cut on the 3D prints and operate. And we work with the children's hospital here in Tampa and their team over there. And we collaborate with them on that. So getting our clinicians really accurate feeling materials, and I think the end point goal eventually of all 3D printing and this kind of comes with more bio-engineering is being able to print directly into the body, whether we're being able to use human STEM cells, to be able to do things like that, or be able to use materials that are safe to be embedded into the body. So thinking of my patient with a shattered face, instead of us being able to have to reconstruct all of that manually, we can actually print something in there. And our team holds a number of patents in this area. So that is our goal is to really get it to where we can print and embed into the body and make internal casts. If we break something, we can fix it internally and have that print grow with you, things like that.

Richard Miles:

So what you're telling me is that within the next 10 years, we're all gonna look like movie stars. Is that the message?

Dr. Summer Decker:

Can't you tell?

Richard Miles:

I love it. This is great. So 3D technology or 3D printing, I should say in general, has been portrayed by some as this kind of miracle technology. And essentially you can eventually manufacture anything anywhere all the time. And I suspect the reality is a bit more complicated, is that even feasible? And what are the practical or the physical constraints that limit 3D printing.

Dr. Summer Decker:

We know that we've even had 3D printers sent to space so they can use them. And so I can tell you that we've worked with teams with the military, that they are on nuclear submarines. So you imagine that we have teams that are underwater somewhere and something breaks on the submarine and they can actually print from the 3D printers. That's there a file can be sent from back wherever the team is and sent out to that location. So 3D printing is getting more affordable, smaller, there are printers for that, but there's a big difference. There's a big jump from the hobbyist type printers. And I hear this all the time, Oh, my kid has one of those are like a toy and that's fun. And I'm excited to see children get involved in that. Cause that's where it starts. These printers that we're playing with are not the same kind of printers. They're very complex machines. They're very finicky human type machines. So I think that being able to do this in the future, everyone has them. I think that that is feasible, but it will be a matter of materials and really knowing what works for the solution that you're trying to be. So you see right now, 3D printed houses happening, but these of course take up a lot of space. So I could see we've got 3D printers that are used for eating so you can actually print food and designs. So I think that really what's exciting to me as I hear new solutions, new applications, all the time, things I would never have thought of. And so that's what I really love hearing from younger students and kids, because they are thinking things so far ahead of us hearing the innovation come out of that age group. I can't even imagine what the technology will look like. It's a miracle now of what we're being able to do. I really I've seen it myself. I've seen patients survive things that they had 0% chance of survival. And that's what makes me happy when I leave work for the day, but to see what's coming next, I'm excited about that. And I hope that I get to be part of it in some way.

Richard Miles:

So one of the things we like to do on the show is we realize inventors are actually real people. And I'd like to hear a little bit about your background. I know you were raised in Florida up in Jacksonville, right? So tell us what you were like as a kid. Were you a good student? Were you a wild child? What was the deal up in Jacksonville?

Dr. Summer Decker:

Well, I'm sure that my school up there would probably say what they thought about it, but I was actually a very quiet student, very much a reader. I loved science a lot. One of my favorite stories is that my fifth grade teacher actually had us write out what we thought we would end up doing in our lives. And I remember some of my friends saying, I want to be a football player. I want to be a ballerina or something like that. And years later they actually gave me the letter. I wrote myself and it actually said, I loved computers. I loved computer programming and I loved anatomy. And so, yeah , and also I liked forensics at that age. I loved mysteries. I read mystery books, lots of Nancy Drew. And so here's the little kid, you know, single digits. Are she writing out that somehow I wanted to be able to use computers, anatomy to solve mysteries. And my training is actually in forensics beyond that. So when I look at it now, I think I must have had some early idea that this could come at some point. But when I went to college, my field really didn't even exist. So I have been back to my high school and to my elementary school and they kind of laugh that I was the quiet, very reserved kid. And so it baffles them, seeing me talking on stages, talking in interviews because I was very quiet, but I love what I do so much that I want to share it. And so, yeah, I was the kid apparently who knew what I was going to end up doing.

Richard Miles:

That's pretty amazing. Most kids do not. They think they do, and then they get it wrong. It's interesting. You did go into forensic anthropology and also Spanish. Right. But then you eventually made your way into medical imaging, radiology, 3D printing. Tell us a little bit about that path. Was it an early class that you took as a freshman that kind of awoken those desires to go into the medical field? Or what was that like?

Dr. Summer Decker:

So the area that I went into anthropology is called physical anthropology. And what I really loved about it was basically it was osteology or the study of bones. And so we are able as trained forensic anthropologists and physical anthropologists, physical anthropology covers things from fossils fossil record to ancient historical remains. And I specialized in forensics because I wanted to be able to answer forensic questions, more modern crime type questions. And in the course of that, I actually started working with the medical examiner in Las Vegas because I went to University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and working with them. I started becoming an autopsy technician. And so I assisted there and I talked to the pathologist there and I said, I love this. This is what I want to do. And they're the ones who encouraged me to go to a medical school. They said, we really would love to see you at a medical school. And the other thing they also did was they told me that in the future, they really could see that autopsies would be done using imaging. And they showed me the news story of a group in Switzerland that was doing virtual autopsies or imaging guided autopsies. So they started making me run all the x-rays. So I started reading x-rays and learning that. And so once I graduated with my master's in anthropology, I ended up coming to a medical school where they actually had a 3D team. And while I really loved the clinical medicine, I really did love the research side of it too. And I didn't want to have to choose. And so I'm really excited to be a clinical PhD. And that means that I have our clinical practice and I do what we do with our cases, but I also get to do a lot of research. And so my area of specialty is actually forensic radiology. And I actually worked very closely with the Swiss team that they mentioned to me as a baby student. And so I go over and teach with them and train other pathologists and radiologists how to get in this field. And it's such an exciting area to be able to combine medical imaging and pathology and 3D and be able to solve crimes and solve who people are. And so we actually have funding right now with the National Institute of Justice here at USF, to be able to help identify people using lumbar scans is so you imagine lots of patients have lower back issues. So you're seeing just as much as teeth are seeing lumbar scans. And so we're now able to use those scans to identify people.

Richard Miles:

You're the sort of person, the TV show is structured their entire show around you're the character, right? Dr. Decker say, get Dr. here stat, you pal around with this cast of MCIs, I imagine.

Dr. Summer Decker:

Erotically . I was there when CSI was developed .

Richard Miles:

Really. Wow .

Dr. Summer Decker:

I actually remember the day they came and talked to us about it and Las Vegas that there was this TV show. We actually laughed that nobody would ever watch it. We said, well, we are a bunch of science dorks who cares about us.

Richard Miles:

Yeah. Wow. Yeah.

Dr. Summer Decker:

And so some of my cases that I worked on there in Las Vegas appeared CSI. So for awhile , that's how people knew me. But as much as I love the forensics, being able to help a patient walk out of that hospital, it really does make it worthwhile for me. So I love being able to do both.

Richard Miles:

So this whole career Dr. Decker is really just a way to get to Hollywood, right? You can just,

Dr. Summer Decker:

As I sit here in a room that I'm normally in the dark, but you know what I actually do tell the students is the software that we use, the tools that we use are the ones Hollywood uses. Um , one of my people worked with me, went off to work for Pixar. And so a lot of it is the same thing. So we actually do go to Pixar movies and see like, Oh, we'll be able to use that. And so there's actually in the history of Pixar, a radiologist was actually involved in that because it's all image analysis. So when I was in college, I had the opportunity to National Geographic Show. And I remember thinking that was the pinnacle of my career because I really loved documentary film growing up. And now I use the same tools that they use for that to be able to answer medical problems. And so I tell my students here at the medical school, I play video games for a living. It just happened to be medical ones.

Richard Miles:

One pointless anecdote about National Geographic, one of our daughters intern there for awhile . And she said that they had two popular topics that just always sold way better than other ones. One was anything about big cats and anything about Alaska. They didn't issue an Alaskan big cats. And it just like broke all records.

Dr. Summer Decker:

Ours was on mummies , but again, using medical imaging to work with the dead and being able to answer questions, using the tools that we have for our clinical patients, then looking at the ancient remains or even historical remains. It's what we should be able to do to progress the field and understand how things have worked even in mummies .

Richard Miles:

So one final question, one of the corollaries of being successful as you have been certainly in the last year, but really your whole career is that people start asking you for advice. So tell us what sort of questions do you get say from your younger researchers or students and what kind of advice do you give?

Dr. Summer Decker:

Well, thank you for saying I'm successful. I'm one of those people that constantly doubts. And I think that's why I keep pushing and pushing. And that's actually probably what I tell my students when I came through school and you kind of touched on this, my field didn't exist yet. And so I had people think I was crazy. Why do you like computers? Why do you like all of these things? And I don't know why, but I just really loved that. And so when I tell students, you don't know, you're so young, you don't know yet what is going to even be possible. So don't get discouraged because I was told by so many people you're not good enough and that you're not smart enough for that mathematics or whatever. It came a little bit harder to me. I had to work hard for it. And so if it is something that you're passionate about that you love, don't give up on it because you never know how you might be able to help a pandemic because you had that vision, that idea, we know that our swabs over 70 million people have had them and 50 something countries. And if I had listened to the people who told me that I can never do this, this is crazy. That's not really a field then that wouldn't have happened. And what I tell people is honestly, stick with your passions just because it doesn't exist now does not mean it won't. And maybe you're the one that's actually makes that field. And so when I see people around me that are like-minded, it's like finding your high, if your bees. And so being able to be around friends and colleagues that thought the same thing. Now , we were all kind of crazy. Well, now we weren't so crazy anymore. And so that's what I tell students. When you walk into medical school, a lot of times people think, Oh , I'll never do that reading again. Or I'll never do that video game again, or I'm supposed to be serious. Now don't give up on those things. If you're passionate about it, because you never know how that's going to come back and help other people. So that's what I tell people.

Richard Miles:

Well, great advice. And certainly you've done the state of Florida proud Jacksonville girl, ending up as a medical researcher in Tampa. So certainly have represented the state well, but we wish you the best of luck. Thank you very much for the work that you've done and helping us get out of this pandemic as hopefully we soon will be and look forward to new and exciting things coming out of your lab.

Dr. Summer Decker:

And I appreciate that. Thank you. And I'll tell the team that too. I'm just one of many thousands. I know, but.

Richard Miles:

Somebody's got to take the credit, right? I wish it was them. Dr. Becker. Thank you very much for being on Radio Cade. Thank you so much.

Outro:

Radio Cade is produced by the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention located in Gainesville, Florida. Richard Miles is the podcast host and Ellie Thom coordinates, inventor interviews, podcasts are recorded at Heartwood Soundstage and edited and mixed by Bob McPeak . The Radio Cade theme song was produced and performed by Tracy columns and features violinist Jacob Lawson.