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Researchers turn to mosquito to design painless needle

flu_shot_032511.jpg

Taking a page out of nature's playbook, a team of Japanese microengineers is developing a needle modeled after the mosquito's mouth in an effort to take the pain out of injections.

Contrary to popular belief, mosquitoes can puncture the skin without discomfort. The "sting" of the bite comes from the insect's anticoagulant saliva, which induces an immune system reaction. Researchers reason that the initial bite goes unnoticed because the mosquito's proboscis, the appendage used to siphon your blood, is highly serrated and greatly reduces stimulation of the nerves. So they created a motorized needle with a similar design. The New Scientist reports:

Etched from silicon, the needle imitates three of the creature's seven mobile mouthparts: the two serrated maxillae and the tubular labrum.

...

The sections of the needle break the skin in the same sequence as they do with a mosquito, vibrating at about 15 hertz to ease it into the skin - as observed in mosquitoes under high-speed video microscopes. Aoyagi has tested his needle on himself and three volunteers, who agree that the pain is much reduced but lasts longer than with a conventional syringe. He thinks that by mimicking more of the creature's mouthparts, including an addition to steady the needle's entry, he'll be able to reduce that dull pain.

Although the mosquito-inspired needles won't be ready for the next flu season, it's at least a little comforting to know that the research is progressing.

Photo by Noodles and Beef

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