A Moment of Science

Microneedles

Needles that don't cause pain? Learn about micro needles on this Moment of Science.

From flu vaccines to tetanus boosters, injections are a must in modern medicine. But do they always have to make you say Ouch?

If new microneedle technology is successful, we may soon have needles that inject medicine without your even knowing it. How does this work, you ask?

You feel things because of the nerves that are embedded in your skin. However, the entire surface of your skin is not covered. From a microscopic viewpoint, there is plenty of space between nerves where a super-tiny needle wouldn’t be felt.

Researcher Mark Prausnitz and his coworkers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta have already built micro-injection devices. Imagine a platform the size of your thumbnail, made of silicon, metal or glass. The surface is covered with a thousand needles, each no bigger than a period at the end of a typewritten sentence.

When this chip is placed on your skin its like rolling in a briar patch–you are pierced again and again. But so small are the briars, you feel nothing. Because they cause no discomfort, microneedles may soon allow doctors to administer controlled amounts of medication over long periods of time. That would be a big step toward the precision medicine of tomorrow–and away from the big Ouch of yesterday.

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