Is Needle-Free The Way To Be? New Injection Device May Eliminate Insulin Needles

A new device can deliver an injection without a needle. How does that work, you ask? That’s a fair question. But it’s not a gimmick from an episode of The Jetsons, it’s real, and hopefully, will be widely available soon.

Portal Instruments has developed a needle-free jet injection device licensed from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and they envision a world where chronic diseases can be managed without needle injections.

A device like this would obviously be hugely convenient; it could also vastly improve patient adherence. Diseases that require needle injections have seen the advent of pen and autoinjectors provide a way for patients to delivery injections on their own in their own homes. This means medications can be more easily administered at home and that is, mostly, a very good thing.

Photo: AdobeStock/kaliantye
Photo: AdobeStock/kaliantye

But because the burden of compliance is now much more on the patients, adherence is harder to control. Needle phobia is a recognized condition, and while it’s hard enough to receive an injection by a doctor or nurse, it can be harder to summon the courage to give an injection to yourself. It’s especially difficult if you have to do it all the time, and if you’re in your own home with no one checking in on you, it can be all too easy to simply “forget” an injection or two.

Needle-based systems also have certain risks. They can cause injury or infection if improperly used or reused, and they are especially hard on children. Oh, and they’re just a pain. Giving yourself an injection? No big deal. Doing it over and over again, with no end in sight? There ought to be a better way!

Photo: AdobeStock/Bits and Splits
Photo: AdobeStock/Bits and Splits

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Portal Instruments agrees. They have developed the Portal PRIME system, a needle-free injection technology that delivers drugs through the skin without piercing the skin. Yes, the drug goes through the skin and into the body, but without a needle to pierce the skin. These devices may use a spring or gas-propelled system or a laser or electromagnetic force to provide enough energy to send a very fine jet of medication through a person’s skin. The device can deliver the medication to a varying depths and can be adjusted to send a precise amount of medication.

The Portal PRIME claims it can provide a comfortable and safe injection of any injectable therapeutic, such as hormone treatments, vaccines, and insulin.

Photo: AdobeStock/Fotos 593
Photo: AdobeStock/Fotos 593

The device is small, and medication can be loaded into a single-use disposable vessel. Portal PRIME uses an electromagnetic actuator to pressurize the drug and eject an stream about the size of a strand of hair. The drug leaves the device at about 200 meters per second. That’s about the speed of a commercial airliner. It’s definitely impressive.

Portal’s device improves on other devices because it provides a way to control the jet and dosage. It takes half a second to deliver a dose of one milliliter. And, of course, the device can connect to an app that can track patient dosage and reaction records. Information can be uploaded to a cloud so that doctors can check on patients and their treatment without having to schedule an appointment.

Photo: AdobeStock/Carlos Yudica
Photo: AdobeStock/Carlos Yudica

So what’s next? In November of 2017, Portal Instruments began a partnership with Takeda, a Japanese pharmaceutical company, to commercialize the PRIME system. The plan is to first try the device as a delivery option for drug that treats ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. It could be a huge development, but it is not yet clear when or if this technology will be available in the United States.

We hope soon. Because, until there’s a viable cure for everyone with diabetes, every bit of convenience counts. A needle-free insulin delivery device would be a huge advance. We’ll keep our eyes open. Until then, stay healthy, friends!

Interested in other diabetes research? “Next” to read how human-sheep hybrids could pave a way for pancreas transplants


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