Taking the pain out of shots

MIT's next-generation, needle-free drug device--courtesy of MIT

Needle-free vaccines sound like just what the doctor ordered--less painful, less stressful for small children, easier to administer, lower risk of needlestick injuries and fewer sharps for diposal. A team of engineers at MIT have developed a jet delivery technology that shoots the vaccine (or therapeutic) through the skin and is less painful than a needle.

There are already a number of needle-free (or needleless) devices on the market, but most of these just deliver one dose to one depth. What makes MIT's system different is that it can deliver a range of doses to a number of different depths by controlling the speed and force of a fine jet powered by a technology known as a Lorentz-force actuator. This is powered by a combination of an electric current and a magnetic field, forcing out a high-speed jet of liquid at almost the speed of sound. The research is published in the journal Medical Engineering & Physics.

"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," Catherine Hogan, a research scientist in MIT's Department of Mechanical Engineering and a member of the research team, says. "We can tailor the pressure profile to be able to do that, and that's the beauty of this device."

Needle-free devices such as patches are limited in what they are able to deliver by what size of molecule can pass through the skin. This technology could have the potential to deliver the larger molecules found in vaccines, and could be modified to deliver vaccines in powder form, which could then be kept at room temperature. This would make vaccines easier to store in countries with high or fluctuating temperatures.

Needle-free vaccines could open up vaccination in remote areas where healthcare staff members are rare, and could cut the approximately 385,000 needlestick injuries to healthcare workers that happen every year in the US, according to the CDC. However, the potential sticking point for this technology, and for other needle-free jet injectors, certainly in the US, is that FDA is likely to want individual evaluations and submissions for each vaccine administered using this new route.

- read the press release
- see the abstract