Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Hypodermic needles

We all know that, especially as kids, the whole idea of going to the doctor to get stuck with a needle is uncomfortable. One of my kids has to get a shot every day, and it is a problem every day. People simply do not like pain.

So why do we have to get shots? Why can't we take everything as a pill? It is because certain medicines cannot survive the acid in the stomach. Insulin is one of those chemicals. Many vaccines fall into the same category.

Back in the 1960s, there was an attempt to replace needles with pressurized guns -- to force the medicine through the skin with pressure. That was not any better because in many cases it hurt more and left a big welt on the skin.

The same problem arises whenever the doctor wants to take blood. The only way to get the blood right now is with a pin prick (for drops of blood) or a needle (for tubes and bags of blood). The problem also arises when an IV is necessary.

It is possible to imagine several different solutions to the problem:
  • Some sort of permanent injection site -- a little rubberish insert that is permanently grafted into the skin somewhere and that gets used whenever a shot is given. Similarly, there could be a permanent tap on a vein somewhere.

  • Some type of tiny nano-assembly unit permanently embedded in your body as a child (like a pacemaker) -- when medicine is needed, the instructions for assembling the drug are sent into the unit and it assembles/releases the medicine as instructed. The same device could analyse blood internally, providing a wireless readout whenever you need one.

  • Even something as simple as an instantaneous numbing cream would be a big help right now.
Whatever path is chosen, this problem is uncomfortable enough that it seems like it will get solved within the next 10 to 20 years.



At 12:35 PM, Blogger Athagno said...

Transdermic ultrasonic patches are in the prototype stage.

Here's a nice mock-up from 2002. This company has recently completed clinical trials of transdermal drug delivery, and they also have continuous glucose monitoring. technology.

At 8:57 PM, Anonymous Mike said...

Unfortunately parents often prime their children with a fear of needles prior to the event so it's hardly surprising that the kids then make a lot of fuss.

In fact the technology of injection needles has improved dramatically over the years with the effect that they are now very much sharper and thinner than they used to be and consequently cause very much less pain than they used to. The pain that I experienced when recently being immunised against flu and other viruses was negligible and only lasted for a very brief moment. If more pain is experienced, it's because the person giving the injection is not very skilled at it.

The insertion of IV's does cause rather more pain but again the person carrying out the procedure has a great deal to do with this. I've had a great many IV's in my time and they have varied from excrutiatingly painful to hardly noticable. In a few cases I have had to disallow certain individuals from carrying out this procedure on me because they were so bad at it.

Once the metal needle for the IV has been withdrawn all that remains is a plastic tube with a tap on the end. This is not usually painful (unless it becomes infected) but can be uncomfortable. However, this arrangement only lasts about a week or so. It is an infection risk and in any case the body gradually rejects the plastic tube and after a short time the vein may completely eliminate it.

I suspect that needles will be with us for quite some time because in the right hands they are a quick and efficient delivery system and the small amount of pain is easily outweighed by the benefits.

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