Daniel Varela and Joana Pedroso are two young Algarvians who, when they realized they could help fight COVID-19, did not turn their heads from the fight. With a prototyping company, set up about six months ago, in Loulé, they decided to make their services available to the community. And so they started a “pioneering work, until now, in Portugal”: the production of swabs.
“Mark 6 Prototyping”. This is the name of Daniel and Joana’s company, which, since last Monday, March 29th, has been producing medical swabs to be used in COVID-19 tests.
Both are 25 years old and are former students of the University of Algarve: he of Mechanical Engineering, she of Marketing. It was precisely at UAlg that “this authentic challenge” began.
“Our main areas are research and development and 3D printing. Based on this, and with the advance of the pandemic, we decided to ask UAlg, in this case CRIA, how we could help”, said Daniel Varela to local news agency Sul Informação.
The expectation of the two young people was, for example, to produce visors on 3D printers, something that has been similarly replicated by other businesses and individuals in the region, but they decided that the challenge they would purse would be different.
“CRIA told us that what was really missing was swabs. So we spent the day doing research, doing tests and, last Monday [March 29th], we delivered the first ones, “said Daniel.
Nuno Marques, head of the Algarve Biomedical Center (ABC), also remembers the surprised nature with which the two young entrepreneurs accepted the challenge.
“I remember that they contacted us, the ABC, saying that they were ready to collaborate in the healthcare area. We accepted, as is natural, and were even surprised when we told them that what we needed was most swabs”, he added. As a matter of fact medicals swabs have reportedly been one of the most deprived products in the whole country, as the Minister of Health has already admitted.
“They immediately got down to work with this job, counting on our support, namely from Professor Isabel Palmeirim, director of the Integrated Masters in Medicine at the University of Algarve”, reinforces Nuno Marques.
“We immediately gave them a list of the materials they can use, according to the World Health Organization: an aluminium rod, and then the tip, which is what the virus is collected on, made of rayon (a synthetic fibre that is the most suitable)”, he explains.
Based on this, the company was able to find a rapid solution “for what seemed to be most difficult part: attaching the tip to the stem in a way that it would be suitably placed”.
Everything was ready, and with a final ok from the competent authorities, the pair “sent the product to the Ricardo Jorge Institute, which did not pose any problem. They did tests on patients, who we knew were positive, and everything went smoothly too”, recalls Mr. Marques, discussing the procedure to testing out the swabs.
For now, says Daniel Varela, “we are making 300 swabs a day”. “But the goal is always more”, he adds promptly. For that, “we have improved the production method. We already have more automated parts and we are working to provide a better response. It has been a daily challenge”, he confesses.
Swabs are being used both for testing COVID-19, for example, at the Algarve Stadium’s drive-thru, as well as for screenings being carried out in all Algarve elderly care homes.
For Vítor Aleixo, Mayor of Loulé, this is “an initiative of great merit, by two young people, which deserves to be applauded”. In addition to the friends of Daniel and Joana, volunteers from the municipality have also joined in with the initiative to help with the production of the swabs.
As for Mark 6, “they have already authorized the disclosure of their formula so that other individuals in the country can also develop these swabs”, says Nuno Marques.
“What we want is to help as many people as possible”, concluded Mr. Varela.