Calling Dr. McCoy: New injection delivery system straight out of Star Trek

by pharmacy on June 18, 2012

In nearly every episode of Star Trek, somebody had to be injected with something. The hypos were accompanied by a mysterious hissing sound, there were no needles, and they were administered, inexplicably, to the neck. Since the uniforms covered most of the body, we might presume this was to preserve the dignity of the crew. Otherwise, whole torsos might require exposure.

That was nearly 50 years ago. Fast forward to today. Researchers at MIT have developed a high speed pressure jet that delivers medicine without a needle…and hurts a lot less than a traditional injection.

A needleless injection has a lot of positives. Nurses and doctors accidentally stick themselves at an alarming rate, increasing the danger of contracting AIDs or another contagious disease in the course of normal duties. No needles means no sticks, and no sticks means less risk. A lot less.

Another group that would benefit is made up of people charged with giving themselves injections. Less pain for diabetics, for example, could likely result in better compliance and better blood sugar control. In turn, this would cut down on complications and lower the overall cost of care.

Many delivery systems have been developed over the years to help people avoid needles. Topical patches, subcutaneous drops, and insulin pumps are becoming more common for all kinds of medications, but needles are still necessary for some.

Needleless injectors have been in use since the ’60s by the military and in other parts of the world, but the device designed by an MIT engineering team led by Professor Ian Hunter is far superior to previous models. Unlike previous devices, this jet-injection system offers pinpointed control of both dose and depth, appropriate for adults and newborn babies alike. Tests found that different skin types require different pressure to deliver the right dose to the correct depth. Each dose can be tailored specifically to meet the needs of the patient.

The design uses a Lorentz-force actuator…basically, a magnet wrapped in a coil of wire attached to a piston within an ampoule with a tiny opening. This device is attached to a corded device that resembles a small hot-glue gun. When current is turned on, the magnet ejects the medicine at high-velocity -almost the speed of sound- for a tiny prick no more painful than a mosquito bite.

Aside from sheer sci-fi coolness factor, will this delivery system alleviate needle phobia? That remains to be seen. Phobias don’t always make sense, so what we consider needle phobia might not be directly related to actual needles. But making necessary injections for newborns less painful, and increasing compliance in non-phobic patients can’t be a bad thing.

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