Getting a medical injection in the future should be much less painful than Kirk's yelps made it seem in the 2009 "Star Trek" film. An MIT lab has come up with a painless, controlled way of shooting medicine through the skin without using needles.
The jet injector device uses a small, powerful magnet and electric current to inject drugs at nearly the speed of sound. Changes in the electric current allow the injector to work in two phases — a high-speed phase to enter the skin and reach a certain depth, and a lower-pressure phase to deliver the drug in a slow stream that allows for absorption.
"If you are afraid of needles and have to frequently self-inject, compliance can be an issue," said Catherine Hogan, a research scientist in MIT's department of mechanical engineering. "We think this kind of technology … gets around some of the phobias that people may have about needles."
The jet injector delivers its drugs through an opening as wide as a mosquito's proboscis. MIT reported on injector technology in the online January issue of the journal Medical Engineering & Physics.
Several "jet injectors" already exist, but they lack the ability to control drug injection speeds like MIT's device. The jet injector method also has an edge over medical patches that only work with tiny drug molecules capable of passing through the skin's pores.
"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," Hogan explained. "We can tailor the pressure profile to be able to do that, and that's the beauty of this device."
The next version of the injector could do something even more miraculous than removing the "ouch" factor — it could use vibrations to turn powder vaccines into a "fluidized" form that enters the skin like a liquid. That delivery system could potentially save thousands of human lives by enabling wider use of powder vaccines that don't spoil or require refrigeration.