Taking the needle out of injections

A disposable syringe device will reduce the threat of needle injuries and the risk of infection to healthcare workers.

A needle-less injection, which will protect healthcare workers and patients from the risk of infection and injury, is being developed by a UK technology firm.

The Intraject syringe, developed by Weston Medical in conjunction with researchers at Cambridge University, uses a compact source of nitrogen to propel a pre-measured quantity of drug through the skin into the underlying tissue. The syringe squirts a very fine jet of liquid at a pressure great enough to penetrate the skin, and the process takes less than 60 milliseconds.

Each year there are over 600,000 needle injuries to healthcare workers in the US alone, leading to the risk of infection by diseases such as hepatitis B and C and HIV, said Oliver Shergold, a PhD student on the team.

‘There is a big market for a device that is very easy to use, and could allow patients to self-administer rather than going to a medical centre, as well as protecting healthcare workers from the risk of infection,’ he said.

The injection is a pre-filled, disposable device, and will be particularly useful for people with conditions such as hepatitis, where the treatment involves a year’s course of injections. The company has also signed a deal with GlaxoSmithKline to produce the device for a migraine treatment, as injections provide faster relief for people suffering from the condition than pills. Vaccines could also be administered with the device, which will be available for sale at the end of 2003.

The novel delivery system is likely to be popular with pharmaceutical firms, as it will give their products a commercial advantage over cheaper generic drugs, said Shergold. ‘It is a single-use, disposable device, which is a big advantage for drugs companies because it means medical centres cannot buy reusable injections and fill them with any drug.’

The research team is using a 3D modelling process called computer tomography, developed by UK imaging technology firm X-Tec, in experiments to ensure the drug is delivered through the body correctly.

Computer tomography works in a similar way to medical body scanning, and produces a 3D image of an object by taking extremely high-resolution X-rays from a number of different angles. The object is placed on a turntable and a number of different images taken, which are then processed by the system’s software to produce a 3D model. The system can also strip away layers of the object to look at sections in the middle that would not normally be visible.

The technology is also applicable in a variety of industries, said Tim Whiteside, X-Tec’s sales engineer. ‘The system can be used in microelectronics, for studying crack propagation and failure in metal and concrete.’

Another use is to produce super high-resolution images of arthritic joints, while Ford is studying composite car body structures at its materials technology centre in Dunton.

On the web