The common fear of needles coupled with the possibility of getting pricked or failure to find a vein can make a trip to the hospital a harrowing experience. However, it may be possible in the future to inject drugs directly into a bloodstream -- without the use of steel-ended implements.
MIT's engineering team, led by Ian Hunter, the George N. Hatsopoulos Professor of Mechanical Engineering, have developed a 'jet-injection system' that delivers doses of medicine in different quantities without piercing the skin in the same manner as a traditional needle.
The injection system comprises of a tiny, high-pressure jet that can deliver medicine in various doses -- an improvement over similar systems that are currently available.
The device's design is based on the Lorentz-force actuator mechanism, a small, powerful magnet that is surrounded by wire coils which carry current. The magnet is then attached to a piston which forces the drug forwards at high speeds -- approximately 343 meters per second.
When current flows through the wire coils, the piston is then driven forward at various pressure and velocity levels depending on the magnetic force of the current and magnet. Once the piston launches, it pierces the skin in the same manner as a mosquito bite.
Catherine Hogan, a research scientist in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering said:
"If I'm breaching a baby's skin to deliver vaccine, I won't need as much pressure as I would need to breach my skin. We can tailor the pressure profile to be able to do that, and that's the beauty of this device."
Submitted to the journal Medical Engineering & Physics, the researchers say that apart from the benefit of removing patient anxiety over needles, it may also prove a safe means to reduce needle-inflicted injuries and discomfort.
"If you are afraid of needles and have to frequently self-inject, compliance can be an issue. We think this kind of technology [..] gets around some of the phobias that people may have about needles."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that healthcare professionals accidentally prick themselves with needles 385,000 per year -- something which could be lowered if devices like the jet-injection system are integrated into health systems. It may also be a means to help patients who have to inject themselves daily; including diabetes sufferers.
Image credit: MIT BioInstrumentation Lab