Saturday, June 02, 2012

Drugs Delivered By High Tech Mosquito Bite

From MIT News:
MIT researchers have engineered a device that delivers a tiny, high-pressure jet of medicine through the skin without the use of a hypodermic needle. The device can be programmed to deliver a range of doses to various depths — an improvement over similar jet-injection systems that are now commercially available. 

The researchers say that among other benefits, the technology may help reduce the potential for needle-stick injuries; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that hospital-based health care workers accidentally prick themselves with needles 385,000 times each year. A needleless device may also help improve compliance among patients who might otherwise avoid the discomfort of regularly injecting themselves with drugs such as insulin.
Now the MIT team, led by Ian Hunter, the George N. Hatsopoulos Professor of Mechanical Engineering, has engineered a jet-injection system that delivers a range of doses to variable depths in a highly controlled manner. The design is built around a mechanism called a Lorentz-force actuator — a small, powerful magnet surrounded by a coil of wire that’s attached to a piston inside a drug ampoule. When current is applied, it interacts with the magnetic field to produce a force that pushes the piston forward, ejecting the drug at very high pressure and velocity (almost the speed of sound in air) out through the ampoule’s nozzle — an opening as wide as a mosquito’s proboscis.(Emphasis added.)
 In the movie the professor says something like, as we all know, we don't feel it when the mosquito inserts its proboscis into the skin . . . He obviously hasn't experienced Alaskan mosquitoes.

As someone whose body instinctively rejects the idea of needles and getting shots since my first encounter many, many years ago, this sounds like a great alternative.

They don't discuss in the video whether the pressure or magnets can in any way change chemical composition of the drugs which might affect their effectiveness.  Or whether one can feel, if not a needle, the pressure of the drug coming into the body. 

There are always issues when very simple, mechanical devices are replaced with much more complex electronic devices.  The cost of such a device will clearly be much greater than the cost of a plastic hypodermic needle.  But since those needles get tossed after one use, one might expect some environmental benefits.  But how many times can one of these gadgets deliver the meds before it needs repair or maintenance?  In other words, how much does it cost per shot compared to the present?  How is it disposed when it finally dies?

While it sounds like such a device will make self-injection (say for a diabetic) a little simpler, and without having to puncture one's skin, it will also most likely make it a lot more expensive.  And what happens if you drop one of these babies?  Will it have to be repaired or replaced?

A hypodermic needle is pretty basic technology.  How will a nurse know that this new gun isn't delivering a drug at the programmed speed?  I'm sure they have asked all these questions, but the cynic in me is always questioning.  I get, very well, the benefit of injection without a needle prick - though I'm not sure that the 'mosquito proboscis' isn't really a tiny needle - but I don't get the need for all the velocity control.

And presumably, the profits from this device would be shared by the inventors and MIT.

1 comment:

  1. Prevention of needle sticks, easing use to those requiring frequent use of injections is good and well. Quite another issue as it comes to needles and people is to find better means to draw blood and to gain intravenous entry to our blood system.

    Too many patients encounter real problems with site infection, skin trauma, pain and rejection. I know. I've seen friends and family members traumatized by these, much heavier gauge needles daily entry into their bodies in recovery or palliative care.

    Ideas and solutions, please.


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