Singapore – A group of clinicians from the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and Duke-NUS Medical School has partnered Biobot Surgical Pte Ltd, one of Singapore’s pioneers in the field of medical robotics technology, to develop a robot that automates nasal swabbing needed to diagnose COVID-19. Nasal swab is the preferred method of gathering the specimen as it gives the best yield for processing by laboratory.
Known as SwabBot™, the robot was born to help address the limitations of manual COVID-19 swabbing by reducing swabbers’ risk of exposure to the virus, reducing the need for trained manpower, standardising the consistency of swabs taken and providing greater throughput of swab tests, as the robot does not suffer from fatigue and remains efficient throughout the day. Overall, the duration of the test is just 20 seconds from start to finish.
The project was initiated in April 2020, by a diverse group of clinicians from numerous specialties, including Head & Neck Surgery, Vascular Surgery, Internal Medicine and Otorhinolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery. The team identified the need to perform nasal swabs for COVID-19 safely, quickly and consistently, in order to reduce swabbers’ risk of exposure and improve patient experience. They collaborated with Biobot Surgical to develop the concept into a clinical prototype within three months. Principal Investigator Dr Rena Dharmawan, Associate Consultant in Head and Neck Surgery, Division of Surgery and Surgical Oncology at NCCS, and Clinical Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Centre of Technology & Development (CTeD) at DukeNUS Medical School, said “Our team felt that we had to find a better way to swab patients to reduce the risk of exposure of COVID-19 to our healthcare workers, especially when patients sneeze or cough, during the swabbing process.” “With SwabBot™, healthcare workers can assist with the swabbing process from a safe distance. It also helps to optimise resources as fewer healthcare workers are needed to do the swab collection, and less Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is utilised,” said Dr Rena who is also an alumnus of Duke-NUS.
SwabBot™ is a self-administered robot which allows individuals being swabbed to activate and terminate the swabbing process at will. When ready, they use their chin to activate the robot and begin the swabbing process. The robot extends the swab safely and gently through the nose to the back of the nasal cavity, which is typically about 10cm from the nostrils.
The robotic swabbing process takes about 20 seconds to complete. To ensure the
safety of the individual, the robot has a built-in feature, which retracts the swab stick if there is resistance when moving deeper into the nasal cavity. In the unlikely case that the individual is unable to tolerate the process, they can terminate it by moving their head away from the robot.
“We are thankful for the synergistic collaboration between our team of clinicians and engineering inventors. SwabBotTM never needs to stop for lunch and never suffers from fatigue. Even after many swabs, it retains the same gentle touch and precision as surgeons who perform very delicate procedures. Furthermore, the sample quality remains consistent even though nose structures can vary in size and shapes. What’s even better, individuals are in full control of the swabbing process throughout!” said Dr Luke Tay, Consultant, Department of Vascular Surgery, SGH.
To date, 75 SGH and Bright Vision Hospital patients have been recruited for the
ongoing clinical trial comparing SwabBot™ to manual swabbing done by humans. Mr Ariata Elizer Ellevera, a 49-year-old migrant worker admitted to Bright Vision Hospital for COVID-19 who was recruited for the clinical trial said, “I’m glad I signed up for the trial. The experience was painless, and the process of swabbing by the robot was very quick.”
22 year old Mr Sean Woon, who was a volunteer in the clinical trial shared, “I felt pretty comfortable throughout the process. Compared to my past swabbing experience I had with human hands, the process with the SwabBot was faster and less painful.”
Using technology to improve diagnostic and treatment accuracy Mr Sim Kok Hwee, CEO of Biobot Surgical and its holding company ZIG Ventures, is thankful for the introduction to the SingHealth clinicians by a mutual friend, Mr Abel Ang, CEO of Advanced Medtech, and also the rapid pace at which the concept was rapidly prototyped by diversified engineering company, Zicom Group. “When we developed the SwabBot, we envisaged a self-swabbing device that could be deployed and used, similar to how self-check out systems are now prevalent in the supermarkets. This should be especially effective for rostered routine testing and reduce manpower involved in swabbing operations.”
SingHealth, the public healthcare cluster which NCCS and SGH are part of, has filed
a patent for this technology together with Biobot Surgical Pte Ltd. SwabBot™ has been registered with the Health Science Authority as a Class A medical device and BioBot is in preparation for CE marking for global commercialisation. The team is confident that SwabBot™ will be an invaluable addition to Singapore’s COVID-19 testing to complement manual swabbing in the near future.
For media enquiries, please contact:
National Cancer Centre Singapore
Manager, Corporate Communications
Singapore General Hospital
HP: 9845 5354
Biobot Surgical Pte Ltd
About National Cancer Centre Singapore
National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) provides a holistic and multi-disciplinary approach
to cancer treatment and patient care. We see close to 65 per cent of the public sector oncology cases, and they are benefiting from the sub-specialisation of our clinical oncologists. To deliver among the best in cancer treatment and care, our clinicians work closely with our scientists who conduct robust cutting-edge clinical and translational research programmes which are internationally recognised. NCCS will also launch its Proton Beam Therapy programme at its new centre. NCCS strives to be a global leading cancer centre, and shares its expertise and knowledge by offering training to local and overseas medical professionals. http://www.
About Singapore General Hospital
Singapore General Hospital, a member of Singapore Health Services, is the public sector’s flagship hospital. Established in 1821, SGH is Singapore’s largest acute tertiary hospital with 1,700 beds and national referral centre offering a comprehensive range of more than 40 clinical specialties on its campus. Every year, about 1 million Singaporeans benefit from medical care delivered by its 800 specialists. As an academic healthcare institution and the bedrock of medical education, SGH plays a key role in nurturing doctors, nurses and allied health professionals, and is committed to innovative translational and clinical research in her continual strive to provide the best care and outcomes to her patients. http://www.
About Biobot Surgical
Biobot Surgical Pte. Ltd is a Singapore company focusing on medical robotics solution. It has launched the iSR’obot™ Mona Lisa, a breakthrough robotic needle positioning system used by urologists and radiologists for diagnosis and interventional procedures for the prostate.
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