Are you afraid of needles or know someone who is? Some people just hate the idea of those small metal tips penetrating their skin, even if they are delivering needed medication. Researchers have been working on needleless drug-delivery systems for a while, as a way to get around the phobia, and those at MIT have come up with a whole new generation of these devices.
Jet injection systems operate by shooting the medicine through the skin at high speed and pressure. With a small enough diameter to the ampoule, which acts like a gun barrel for the medicine, a patient will not feel anything, in the same way we do not feel a mosquito insert their proboscis. MIT has designed a new jet injector that offers unparalleled precision and capability, compared to traditional designs.
Using a Lorentz-force actuator, which uses electromagnetism to move a piston, the injector can inject medicine at up to the speed of sound. For when the medicine needs to go deep into the body, this is definitely useful, but for the times that the medicine needs to be delivered just below the skin, the current to the actuator can be reduced. These changes can also be made during the injection, so the pressure can be reduced after the skin is broken, so the medicine does not get dispersed deeper than needed.
This technology will definitely prove useful for patients who are afraid of needles, but its impact will extend beyond just the doctor's office. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that health care workers in hospitals prick themselves with needles 385,000 times in a year. By removing the needle, this danger is also removed. The actuator also allows for powdered medicines to be injected as though they were liquid, which could solve the cold-chain problem. Many liquid medicines need to be kept cold, so if the cooler fails while transporting them, supplies destined for developing countries can be lost. Powdered medicines are stable enough to not require cold temperatures, making them much easier to transport.