Thursday, September 13, 2012

Laser injections could make vaccinations painless

Of all the ways it is possible to get a drug or therapeutic agent administered to a patient, an injection with a needle must be the least favourable. Despite recent advancements that have made the needle part much smaller and therefore less painful, a lot of people still despise the feeling that an injection induces. There have been attempts to decrease the pain or unpleasant sensations caused by needles, but there is only so much science can do. That is why researchers from the Seoul National University have developed something radically different: a laser that replaces the function of a needle.

A laser system made for use on skin is not new: dermatologists have used it for years in order to correct skin features. However, a similar system can be used to actually blast liquids into the skin, which means it could do something fairly similar to a needle. The South Korean scientists therefore tried to develop a needle-like system based on the aforementioned laser, and showed they can 'blast' a liquid-based substance with a velocity of 30 meters per second. Certainly enough to inject something into a patient's arm.

Guinea pigs
In order to test the laser-based injection system, the scientists shot liquids into the skin of guinea pigs. Analysis showed that the injected substance reached its target depth without any damage to the tissue. According to the researchers, their system is likely to cause no or negligible pain to patients because it only reaches a skin layer that is devoid of sensory neurons, that are tasked with sensing pain. The laser jet only reaches the so-called epidermal layer, at a depth of only 0,5mm.

With a pulse duration of only 250 millionths of a second and a diameter of merely 150 millionths of a meter, the laser system is quite high-tech, which means it is likely to cost more to inject a patient compared to simply using an old-fashioned hypodermic needle. However, the scientists hope to collaborate with industry partners in order to cheaply produce replaceable injectors. It is not clear when a laser-based injection system could reach the clinic.
It would be great not having to use one of these anymore.

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