Blast That Cures

For the first time in India a needleless drug delivery device has been designed. Gopalan Jagadeesh from the Department of Aerospace Engineering, Indian Institute of Science, that designed the device, talks to Ipsita Sarkar

By Ipsita Sarkar
Published: Saturday 30 April 2011

Gopalan JagadeeshHow does this device work?

There is a phenomenon in nature called shockwave. For example, in a volcanic explosion most of the energy is carried away by a shock wave. Whenever such a wave travels through any medium, it increases the pressure and temperature within microseconds. A big Pokhran blast, for instance, would involve 150 kilo tonnes of explosives, but in the laboratory we spend little energy. When we create a blast, a tiny wave of low supersonic speed is produced. The mechanical impulse generated pushes the drug into the body without a needle.

Why should people choose needleless injections over syringes?

We are targeting 150 million diabetics across the world. More than 30 per cent injections used have needles, which are either not effective or are contaminated. Contaminated needles raise the risk of diseases like HIV. There is a push all over the world to switch over to needleless injections as this method is safe, effective and economical. From the safety point of view, the penetration of this device ranges from 0.06 to 0.08 millimetre below the skin as compared to 2 to 2.5 millimetre that of a syringe. So it does not damage the langerhans cells that are a part of the adaptive immune system just below the skin. The quantum of drug required to administer by the present method is less. This injection will be affordable to all. It will cost Rs 5 to Rs 10, which is likely to attract more people in India to use it. This injection cannot be reused. People have never used shock waves for such good purposes earlier. There are other interesting applications of this device.

NeedlelessWhat are the other potential applications of the device?

We are working on the second generation application of the device where we don’t have to use the explosive technique. It would be a healthier alternative to chemotherapy to treat cancer. The application could also be integrated with an endoscopic device used in gene therapy. It can be used to develop a portable and cheaper gene gun—a device to transfer genes into the body.

Possible limitations of the device.

So far we have conducted trials on animals and tested only for typhoid vaccinations on mice. Drug delivery needs to be assessed for other vaccinations as well. The quantity of drug we can currently deliver is small. While conducting this experiment, we gave multiple shots to mice.But whether this dosage would be enough or do we need to give more shots, will be established only after conducting elaborate trials on humans.

What about other companies in foreign countries producing needleless drug delivery devices?

None of those devices are commercially available yet. Bioject Medical Technologies Inc in the US for instance, is conducting clinical trials on animals using its own device that uses carbon dioxide. But I do not know how far Bioject would be successful. Our philosophy is different from what they are attempting. We have to wait till those devices are available in the market.

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