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Jet injections hint at a needle-free future

Jet injections hint at a needle-free future

Dr Andrew Taberner jet injector deviceAuckland researchers are helping to develop needle-free jet injections that can administer drugs with less pain and more accuracy.

The needle-free device developed by the Auckland Bioengineering Institute and MIT delivers a tiny, high-pressure jet of medicine through the skin without the use of a hypodermic needle. It’s capable of delivering doses of medication in different quantities to various depths and can inject medication through the skin near the speed of sound.

The research was published in the journal Medical Engineering & Physics.

Dr Andrew Taberner (pictured) is leading the New Zealand research at ABI’s bioinstrumentation laboratory, alongside a team from MIT in the US, headed up by New Zealander Ian Hunter, the George N. Hatsopoulos Professor of Mechanical Engineering.

According to NPR, while existing medical jet injectors use a spring or other mechanical method to force liquid out all at once, this technology uses a piston made from a coil of wire wrapped around a magnet. A computer chip controls the process, enabling millisecond-by-millisecond control over the speed and pressure of the jet.

"We have a degree of control that hasn't been possible before," says Hunter.

He says there's potential for the injector, which is of a similar diameter to a mosquito proboscis, to deliver drugs through the retina or inner ear.

Dr Taberner says the device, which so far has only been tested on animals, can be programmed to deliver a range of doses to various depths and is an improvement over similar jet-injection systems currently commercially available. 

“Jet injectors are not new but this is the first time that anyone has used a highly controllable linear motor to precisely jet-inject, which allows the user to control drug injection speed and makes it possible to rapidly repeat injections."
Jet injector device
The jet-injections are less painful than a hypodermic needle because they leave a hole about the quarter of the size of a needle or about the diameter of a human hair. The device, which has been likened to Star Trek'shypospray, uses a magnet and a tiny piston to deliver the jet of medicine through the skin.

“The device could have many benefits including increasing the compliance rates of diabetics who have to regularly inject themselves with medication. If you are afraid of needles and have to frequently self-inject, compliance can be an issue,” he says.

Benefits also include reducing the potential for needle-stick injuries and appealing to those with a fear of needles. 

Dr Taberner says since the device can automatically reload and deliver many injections over a short amount of time it could have advantages in third-world countries where mass vaccinations are carried out. The device could also be used for diagnostic purposes both in humans and animals because it has a “drawback mechanism” that gives it the ability to take liquid samples from patients. And there are potential applications in animal care and in food production, he says.

Dr Taberner established a student exchange programme between the university and MIT which has been running for the past three years. Students on the exchange programme are currently working on the jet-injection research.