This new jet-injector (from MIT) provides a needle-free alternative to medicine delivery

Bhanu Pratap May 25, 2012 1
This new jet-injector (from MIT) provides a needle-free alternative to medicine delivery

Afraid of the injection needle and so, avoiding your visit to the doctor for your shot? Technology is at your service with the solution. As soon as this new device developed by a team of MIT researchers is put into production. MIT researchers have developed a device that can deliver a tiny, high-pressure jet of medicine through the skin without the use of the traditional (hypodermic) needle. The best part is that the device can be programmed to deliver a range of highly controlled doses by penetrating the skin to various depths — an improvement over similar jet-injection systems that are now commercially available.  It uses a Lorentz-force actuator to create an adjustable high-pressure jet which is then ejected out of a nozzle, about as wide as a mosquito’s proboscis. But avoiding the fear of the needle is not the only benefit of this new innovation. The researchers feel that among other benefits, this new technology will also help in reducing the potential for needle related injuries. According to a separate research, it is estimated that hospital-based health care workers accidentally prick themselves with needles almost 400,000 times each year. A device that avoids the needle altogether, is also targeted to help improve compliance among patients who might otherwise avoid the discomfort of regularly injecting themselves with important need based drugs (such as insulin).

It is not the first invention in the field, but a very important one. Other alternatives to the needle have been developed in the past too. One such example is the nicotine patch that slowly releases drugs through the skin. But this kind of patch could not be modified for other uses such as medicine delivery because such patches can only release drug molecules which are small enough to pass through the skin’s pores. This limits the types of medicines that can actually be delivered through them.

Another option that is available for a long time, maybe for decades, they also have certain limitations. For one, they rely on compressed air or gas cartridges to power each delivery. The Lorentz-force actuator, used by this new device, is a small and powerful magnet surrounded by a coil of wire that is attached to a piston inside the drug ampule and it is powered by an electric current. This small powerful package is able to pressurize a drug up to 100 mega pascals in less than one millisecond. That makes it capable of injecting high pressure doses at almost the speed of sound in air (about 314 m/s or 1,126 ft/s). Another breakthrough point of consideration is that, by altering the electric current, the velocity of the delivery can be changed even mid-injection: an initial high-pressure phase in which the device ejects drug at a high-enough velocity to “breach” the skin and reach the desired depth, then a lower-pressure phase where drug is delivered in a slower stream that can easily be absorbed by the surrounding tissue.

“Commercially available jet injectors … provide limited control, which limits their applications to certain drugs or patient populations,”  says Mitragotri (one of the developers of the device). “[This] design provides excellent control over jet parameters, including speed and doses … this will enhance the applicability of needleless drug devices.” Another member of the development team, Hogan says “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, we can tailor the pressure profile to be able to do that, and that’s the beauty of this device.”

The team is also working to develop a version of the device for trans-dermal delivery of drugs ordinarily found in powdered form by programming the device to vibrate, turning powder into a “fluidized” form that can be delivered through the skin much like a liquid. There is still some time for this product to come into mass production and filter down society to be available at all levels for everyday use, but the revolution has begun.


(Image and video courtesy: MIT BioInstrumentation Lab)

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