Scary needles and looking away when getting a shot may be a thing of the past. New technology is being developed that allow needle-free injection of drugs.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, led by Ian Hunter, the George N. Hatsopoulos Professor of Mechanical Engineering, have developed a jet-injection system that injects the drug through the skin. Instead of using a hypodermic needle, the device uses a high-pressure system that can penetrate the skin and deliver the drug into the bloodstream. Not only will the device save some patients the pain of needles, but can also reduce needle-related injuries and also help patients who need to self-inject medication.

The jet-injection system goes beyond other methods of delivering drugs through the skin, like a nicotine patch. Previously, drug molecules needed to be small enough to get past the pores of the skin which restricts what type of medicine one can use via this method.

The MIT-developed jet-injection system allows easy control of medication delivery by using the Lorentz-force actuator. Current jet-injection systems on the market allow no control of the method of delivery, from the depth of the injection or the amount of medicine to use.

The new jet-injection system solves this problem by the Lorentz-force actuator, which is a sealed vial that contains a piston in which a small magnet, surrounded by coils, is attached to. Researchers can control an electrical current to cause the piston to move forward at a high velocity, based on how much current is used, through the nozzle, which is "as wide as a mosquito's proboscis." Using this method, the drug can get through the skin's pores and into the needed depth. Once at the right depth, pressure is reduced and the drug is released into the tissue around the injection site.

This method allows the jet-injection system to be used on anyone, from infants to adults. Researchers can reduce the pressure inject vaccines in children or use it regularly on adults for a flu shot. Diabetics who have to inject themselves with insulin can use this device to avoid the pain of needles which may help improve diabetes management. It can also be useful for anyone who is needle-adverse.

The MIT researchers are also adapting the device to inject drugs that are in powder form. The device would create enough vibration that would cause the powder to act like a liquid and be injected into the skin.

The study was published in Medical Engineering and Physics.