For Those Who Fear Needles, an Air-Jet Alternative

Needle-less technology for injecting medicine is nothing new. But, until now, it's relied on compressed air or gas cartridges to breach the skin and deliver the dosage.

A team of medical and mechanical engineering researchers from MIT has developed a new technology for needle-less injection that relies on not compressed molecules but magnetic energy.

The device uses something called a "Lorentz-force actuator" (a small, powerful magnet surrounded by a coil of wire that's attached to a piston inside the drug ampoule) that, powered by an electrical current, creates an adjustable high-pressure jet and ejects it out of a microscopically narrow nozzle. This needle-thin stream of air penetrates the skin to deliver highly controlled doses at different depths.

At nearly the speed of sound, the device is capable of injecting a drug in high pressure doses of up to 100 megapascals, in under a millisecond. It is so sensitive, mid-way through the injection the velocity of the injection can be adjusted by altering the electrical current—higher velocity to break the skin's surface, slightly lower to mete the drug into the bloodstream and surrounding tissue.

The benefits of this "needle-less needle" are seemingly endless: Of course, those with an aversion to needles will be soothed by the alternative injection, especially people like diabetics, who routinely must administer self-injections. But also the chance of needle-stick injuries will be mitigated, as will the risk of contracting a disease off a contaminated needle.

Ian Hunter, the Professor of Mechanical Engineering who led the research team, explains that because the device can also take a drug in powdered form—it vibrates at such a rate that the drug behaves as though it were a liquid being injected through the skin—administering injections in developing countries will be easier, as powders require no refrigeration or cooling.

Not yet available, though hopefully soon, further development of the jet-injection device is currently underway. [GizMag - Image via Tatiana Popova/Shutterstock]