Scared of needles? Three new technologies to take the pain out of shots

Nobody likes getting the jab. But technology might help with the holdouts.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer
Portal Instruments

Nobody enjoys getting the jab. Whether it's a standard shot, an epidural or dental injection, or a daily shot for needed medicine, the experience has created a class of phobias, with one Harvard study estimating that up to 25% of adults fear needles.  

Surprisingly, despite so much innovation in other areas of medicine, the experience of getting a shot or injection hasn't changed all that much in the last century. But thankfully, new technologies are finally catching on and changing how people think about needles, and the technology is being embraced readily by providers.

"Our injection technologies serving the dental and epidural community have been growing," says Arjan Haverhals, CEO of Milestone Scientific, which has pioneered a computer-controlled injection technology that guides the injection below the patient's pain threshold, making injections precise, efficient, and virtually painless. "We have a growing number of hospitals embracing our technology as well have entered the private pain clinic market for the treatment of chronic back pain. Our dental delivery system, which is available nationwide and in Canada, has seen growing interest from all dental professionals worldwide."

A handful of technology innovators like Milestone Scientific are bent on improving the jab through wearables, computer guidance, and needle-free injection technologies. 

Portal Instruments, an MIT spinoff, is another player in the space. The company is bringing a needle-free injection device to market that delivers a rapid, high-pressure stream of medicine, as thin as a strand of hair, through the skin in adjustable dosages, causing little to no pain. A connected app tracks each dose and the medicine's effects and uploads that information to the cloud for patients and doctors. The device would be sold as a drug-device combination product to medical professionals and provided to patients with a prescription.

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Enable Injection designs, manufactures, and sells wearable delivery devices for injectable drugs. Patients attach the device onto the skin by themselves and trigger needle insertion and retraction by pressing a button on the device. Enable also offers a version of the drug delivery platform that may connect to smartphones via Bluetooth through a partnership with Flex. According to the company's website, the Enable Smart enFuse product could be "pre-integrated" into an organization's digital health platform or strategy for improved patient data collection. 

It's little surprise there's so much activity around increasing outcomes and lowering pain associated with injections. The growth of the global injectable drug delivery devices market is expected to increase from $16 billion in 2019 to $21.3 billion in 2023, partly due to increased demand for injection devices that can be used and monitored in the home environment. Milestone, for one, has seen significant interest in the U.S, where epidural-specific systems are in place and trials underway in Florida, Michigan, Texas, South Carolina, Illinois, and Massachusetts, to name a few. The Dental delivery system is used widely throughout the country with growing interest from specialty practices, including periodontic, cosmetic, and pediatric. 

"For medical, this means healthcare outcome for patients at lower costs. For dental, it means pain-free injections, more comfort and less fear for patients," says Haverhals, "plus the ability for additional business for dentists. In fact, many of our dentists, in particular, have noted word-of-mouth as a marketing tool for growing their business just by adopting our injection technology."

Portal Instruments has raised 42M in funding on optimism surrounding the rich Needle-Free Injection System Market. Enable Injection has raised 345M to date through Series C, with a valuation of more than $1B. The total market is expected to reach $8 billion within ten years.

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