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No More Needles: Get Your Future Drugs Via Jet Injection

Using a tiny needle the size of what a mosquito sticks in you, this new medical breakthrough–straight from Star Trek–blows medicine into your blood without the pain of needles.

Even the least squeamish among us still would rather avoid receiving drugs injected by needle when possible. It’s so much invasive–and uncomfortable–than taking a pill. And who wants to deliberately stick themselves with a sharp object? Enter the drug jet injector.

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There are a handful of hypodermic needle alternatives on the market already, including some jet injectors. Problem is, these injectors don’t allow you to adjust the dose–they are spring-loaded to release the same amount of drug each time. The patch (i.e. a nicotine patch) is another alternative, but it’s limited: only drugs that are sized to fit through the skin’s pores will work.

Image courtesy of the MIT BioInstrumentation Lab

MIT’s new jet injector delivers medicine via a small high-pressure jet that can be tweaked to deliver precise dosages. The injector uses a magnet surrounded by a coil that is in turn attached to a piston inside a small vial of the drug (a mechanism dubbed a “Lorentz-force actuator”). When the user applies current (different amounts of current release different amounts of the drug), the magnetic field generates force to to push the piston forward and eject the drug through the nozzle through the skin and into muscle.

It’s quick and less painful than needle injection since the jet of medicine is so thin–about the size of a mosquito’s proboscis. Today’s injectors have larger jets, which make them more painful. Like other traditional needle alternatives, MIT’s injector reduces the risk of needle-stick injuries.

The jet injector hasn’t been tested on humans, and it will take a few years before it’s ready for everyday use. But according to NPR, MIT is already working on new features for the device, including the ability to sense elasticity and thickness of the skin so the injector can adjust pressure and speed.

Better than a pill? No. But for some patients, this could prevent a whole lot of needle-induced angst.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.

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