Technology in “Star Trek” seems to become reality all the time. Cell phones — what Captain Kirk would call a “communicator” — are commonplace. Now, thanks to scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), we have what Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy would call a “hypospray.”
Fans of the show would immediately know what medical device that is, perhaps even only by the “tsssst” sound it made when Bones injected a drug through the skin of an arm or a neck. MIT scientists have made such a device — a high-pressure injection tool — that delivers medicine through the skin painlessly without the use of a hypodermic needle, reports Alexander Besant of GlobalPost.
“We are able to fire the drug out at almost the speed of sound if we need to — the speed of sound in air is about 340 meters per second,” says Ian Hunter, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT and researcher at its bioinstrumentation lab. “It’s capable of pressurizing the drug up to 100 megapascales, and we can do that in under a millisecond.”
This medical device can be programmed to deliver doses to various depths. This feature marks an improvement over similar jet-injection systems that are now commercially available, according to the MIT press release.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that health care workers accidentally prick themselves with needles 385,000 times a year. This device may help reduce those injuries.
Also, a needleless device could help reduce patients’ discomfort and fear of needles. Those who have to get injections regularly, for insulin, for example, may improve their compliance for taking the drug regimen by avoiding pain or soreness that could be caused by a needle..
“If you are afraid of needles and have to frequently self-inject, compliance can be an issue,” says Catherine Hogan, a research scientist in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and a member of the research team. “We think this kind of technology […] gets around some of the phobias that people may have about needles.”
The researchers are now testing how to improve the device so that it can deliver powdered drugs, which might be necessary if liquid drugs are not available. The development of the technology has been published in the journal, Medical Engineering & Physics.
Source: “Injection device may mean the end of needles,” GlobalPost, 5/28/12
Source: “Device may inject a variety of drugs without using needles,” MIT press release, 5/24/12
Source: “Jet-injected drugs may mean the end of needles,” YouTube
Dale McGeehon has been a journalist and editor for more than 25 years, covering chemical regulation and testing for Pesticides and Toxic Chemical News and innovations in material sciences for the National Technology Transfer Center. His writing credits include Omni and College Park magazines and The New York Times.