The science of adhesives in COVID-19 testing
Oct 7, 2020

“Nobody thought it would work, but I said, ‘what the heck, let’s give it a try anyway.’”

Ken Wood, a product developer at 3M, had an idea. He knew it was a longshot, but if successful would help enable quicker and more accurate diagnostic tests than the current laboratory tests.

His idea was to use a special 3M adhesive to help protect DNA samples during testing.

Today, more than 20 years later, Ken’s idea is being used in labs around the world to help in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

DiaSorin Molecular is a 3M customer who utilizes Ken’s idea in their Simplexa® COVID-19 Direct kit.

“This adhesive is a critical component to our whole process.” said John Gerace, president of DiaSorin Molecular.

In the lab at 3M

In 1999, Ken and his 3M colleagues were trying to develop components that would support a new method of diagnostic testing. The group were specifically focused on safeguarding DNA samples during the testing process which requires many rounds of intense heating and cooling. Their initial idea was to apply foil over the top of a plastic container that housed the DNA by using a heat seal.

“It’s the exact same process you see on yogurt containers,” said Ken.

But the group quickly experienced issues with this approach. The foil would shrink and curl after the heat seal was applied which jeopardized the DNA samples.

“After several months, I concluded it was impossible,” said Ken. “We were fighting against physics at that point. The foil just kept curling up like a Pringles chip.”

A new idea

Ken then remembered his work from the early 1990’s when he partnered with 3M adhesive experts on medical devices. Ken had familiarity with a specific type of adhesive called PSAs (pressure sensitive adhesives) and its unique ability to bond to a variety of materials. He had a feeling that PSAs would do the trick in this case.

“It’s funny because I’m not an adhesive guy, but I figured we had nothing to lose.” said Ken. 

Trusting his gut, Ken walked over to the adhesive building to chat with his friend and former colleague, Kurt Melancon. Kurt was one of 3M’s top PSA experts at that time. Ken described the issue about damaging the foil and his idea to use a PSA. Kurt told Ken that using a special 3M silicone PSA was his only chance. 

“The very first silicone we tried ended up being the right one,” said Ken. “It was invented several years prior and just sitting on the shelf.”

From idea to reality

Over the next several months, Kurt and his team made minor tweaks to the silicone. After that, the product development team drove it home for commercial use by 2002.

“This was a total team effort,” said Ken. “I had the initial idea, but we had many bright minds to help make it happen. It’s an incredibly robust adhesive.”

Today, the special silicone is being used in several 3M products, including 3M™ Microfluidic Diagnostic Tape. The tape is designed for use in diagnostic medical devices such as cover tape, lab-on-a-chip and PCR applications.

3M has been a world leader in adhesives for more than 50 years and is supplying several unique solutions to support COVID-19 research efforts, particularly in the areas of diagnosis and vaccine development.

“To me, it’s a classic 3M story just like Post-it® Notes,” said Ken. “It’s almost as if the adhesive was developed specifically for this purpose. And it was just sitting there.”

At 3M, science never expires.


More information about DiaSorin Molecular
DiaSorin Molecular LLC manufactures and distributes innovative molecular diagnostic products on the versatile LIAISON® MDX platform. They are a vendor partner to Hospital and Reference Laboratories that provides value through sales, service and support solutions.

The Simplexa® COVID-19 Direct kit is FDA Emergency Use Authorized and CE Marked and allows for fast results directly from nasal swab, nasopharyngeal swab, nasal wash/aspirate, and BAL specimens, eliminating traditional RNA extraction steps. This enables faster turnaround times to help improve patient management and prevent further transmission of the disease. The assay is also CE Marked for use with saliva specimens.

The Simplexa COVID-19 Direct kit has not been FDA cleared or approved. This test has been authorized by FDA under an EUA for use by authorized laboratories. The Simplexa COVID-19 Direct kit has been authorized only for the detection of nucleic acid from SARS-CoV-2, not for any other viruses or pathogens. This test is only authorized for the duration of the declaration that circumstances exist justifying the authorization of emergency use of in vitro diagnostic tests for detection and/or diagnosis of COVID-19 under Section 564(b)(1) of the Act, 21U.S.C. § 360bbb-3(b)(1), unless the authorization is terminated or revoked sooner.

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