The Quest For A Painless Injection

Pain shouldn't scare us away from treatment.
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Olga Lexell
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Pain shouldn't scare us away from treatment.

I am terrified of needles, especially the ones that draw blood. Years of iron deficiency tests have made me irrationally wary of getting any kind of injection or blood test. Yes, I know they're important. No, I can't get my blood drawn without the numbing cream that they use on children who won't stop crying. Yes, my heart races a little when the dentist gives me Novocaine.

But I'm lucky. I don't have to give myself injections. I am perpetually in awe of diabetic people who can give themselves shots without even flinching. For a long time, there's been a quest to find an alternate treatment for diabetics beyond insulin injections. The latest innovation is a new patch coated in beta cells, which produce insulin, that can painlessly attach to a person's skin and produce insulin. Those who use the patch won't need to monitor blood levels or inject themselves with insulin when they need it.

This isn't the first insulin patch of this variety, but it's proven to be effective in trials on mice and uses actual living beta cells to produce insulin. The patch provides a pain-free injection by using tiny needles the size of an eyelash that connect to capillaries beneath the skin. The best part is that the patch gets around one of the biggest risks of insulin injections -- it provides the exact amount that its wearer needs, rather than having them estimate. In preliminary tests, the patch didn't give too much or too little insulin to the mice wearing it. (For diabetics, taking too much or too little insulin can be dangerous and even deadly.) Perhaps in the future, insulin patches could even function like smart wearables and give patients better control over their blood sugar levels. 

Of course, other companies have tried to create a painless injection. Theranos recently came under fire after claiming to have found a way to perform thirty lab tests on only a few drops of blood. Some people have even taken injections into their own hands -- two college students created a 3D printed device that can numb the skin as a needle pierces it