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]