The June 17, 2000 issue of New Scientist is filled with items that read more like Ripley's Believe It Or Not than a science magazine. One item that really caught our eye regards a new patent in the works for a pain-free system to inject drugs, take blood samples and even etch tattoos.
SpectRx and Altea Technologies of Atlanta, Georgia are currently seeking a patent on a new way of using tiny explosive charges to deliver drugs or even remove blood. In place of a needle, the system uses a blunt probe tipped with a pyrotechnic mixture. The explosion produces a tiny opening in the skin through which fluids-including drugs or tattoo dyes-can be pushed through the skin. The system can work in reverse to remove bodily fluids as well.
The flash of a laser diode or an electrical pulse triggers the pyrotechnic charge. The whole procedure happens in 10 milliseconds or less, so the skin temperature never rises above 40 o Celsius-well below the human pain threshold.
The probe can also be equipped with an electrochemical biosensor, which measures blood glucose levels for diabetics. If the probe is filled with ink, the pyrotechnic device can deliver an instant tattoo-no needles involved.
So, if your patients ask you about painless drug delivery systems, you can tell them one is on the way. You might want to refrain from explaining the pyrotechnic nature of the device. Somehow the term "explosion" negates the words "pain-free" when they appear together in the same sentence.