Blunt needle means you won’t feel a thing

A pain-free injection system inspired by the design of tattooing equipment promises to end the suffering of patients requiring frequent injections.

The system will be of particular benefit to diabetics and needle-phobic children, as well as cancer sufferers, where current treatments necessitating multiple injections may cause an unacceptable degree of pain.

The Imprint Injector, manufactured by Surrey-based Imprint Pharmaceuticals, fires a blunt needle into the skin in 1/20,000th of a second. It uses a patented design to translate energy from the push of the delivery button into downward force without the need for compressed gases as in the needle-less injection system.

As the needle has no cutting edge it forces tissue aside and finds its way between layers of cells rather than cutting through them like a traditional hypodermic. It stretches the skin to create a small hole, and so avoids causing pain. Blood vessels and nerves are less likely to be damaged and bruising is rare.

Biochemist and engineer Peter Crocker came across the idea accidentally while testing a prototype system for injecting drugs just under the skin using equipment based on the design of a tattooing machine.

During the experiment the machine exploded, pushing a blunt component into his arm to the depth of an inch without causing him any pain or blood loss. After working for six months and building numerous prototypes, he managed to replicate the effect.As there is little blood leakage from the injection site there is also little leakage of the delivered drug, making the Imprint Injector ideal for drugs that must be administered under the skin in small amounts.

It could help treat diseases originating in tissues just below the skin, such as psoriasis and certain skin cancers. This method would replace ointments and creams where doses absorbed by the skin may be washed away by capillaries.

The device can be used on areas of the body where hypodermic needles cause extreme pain. ‘The painless system can inject drugs into areas such as the fingernail to treat fungal infections,’ says Crocker.

The injector is designed to be disposable but can be reused when a patient requires multiple injections over a short period. The company has completed a successful clinical trial using prototypes and hopes to gain funding to market the product commercially.