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Future pain-free microneedles could be inspired by mosquitos

If you receive a painless injection courtesy of a new microneedle in the near future, you may owe a debt of gratitude to the mosquito. The reason? Because quite possibly everyone’s least favorite insect is the inspiration behind new work being carried out by researchers at Ohio State University.

“The reason we look at nature for cues is because nature has been through so much evolution to discover the simplest and most efficient methods,” Bharat Bhushan, a professor of Mechanical Engineering at Ohio State, told Digital Trends. “In this work what interested us was the way that mosquitoes bite, since they are able to do this for several minutes without us feeling a thing. We wanted to use this to see if we could develop a painless microneedle.”

So far, they haven’t actually developed a prototype of this needle. What they have done is to take a much closer look at the unique components that enable the mosquito to bite people without causing them discomfort. The mosquito uses a combination of four things. These include the use of a saliva-based numbing agent during biting, a serrated design for the “needle,” vibration during the piercing process, and a combination of soft and hard parts on the proboscis, the insect’s elongated sucking mouthpart. This combination allows the mosquito to pierce the skin with just one-third of the force required for an artificial needle, while the numbing agent takes care of the rest.

Based on the team’s research, Bhushan suggests that it would be possible to create a microneedle containing two needles. One of these would inject a numbing agent, while the second could be used for drawing blood or injecting a drug. This second needle would also bost a serrated edge like the mosquito’s fascicle, be flexible and softer on the tip and sides, and vibrate when inserted. He claims that the materials and technology to create such a needle already exists.

While this could prove to be more expensive than traditional needles, it may be useful for cases in which children or adults have a phobia around the use of needles. “It could also be in cases of drug delivery in patients, where the needle needs to be in for a long period of time,” Bhushan continued.

This isn’t the only pain-free needle project we’ve covered at Digital Trends. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are busy developing a new smart injection technology that promises a way to inject drugs without the needles by blasting them into your body at Mach 0.7. Still, we could do a lot worse than having competing projects designed to bring us pain-free injections, right?

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