While intravenous needles need to be rigid in order to pierce the skin, that rigidity sometimes causes damage to the veins. A new needle addresses that issue by softening upon insertion into the patient’s body – plus it reduces the likelihood of needle-poke injuries.
One of the problems with conventional stainless steel IV needles lies in the fact that unlike our veins, they are not soft and flexible.
This means that once a needle has been inserted into a vein, the sharp tip of that needle may damage the vein’s thin walls. Such injuries are particularly likely to occur if the patient moves around too much while the medication is being administered.
Additionally, there’s always a risk that caregivers may accidentally poke themselves with used needles, thus becoming infected with patients’ blood-borne viruses. Unfortunately, unscrupulous healthcare facilities also sometimes reuse needles, spreading viruses between patients.
That’s where the experimental new P-CARE (Phase-Convertible, Adapting and non-REusable) needle comes in. Developed by a team of scientists at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) it’s made of a metal known as gallium, which is encapsulated within a soft silicone sheath.
At room temperature, the gallium is stiff enough to pierce the skin. Once the needle is inserted into a vein and warmed to the patient’s body temperature, however, the gallium melts to a liquid state. The needle thus becomes flexible, although liquid medication is still able to freely pass through it.
What’s more, because the melting process is irreversible, the needle remains soft even once it’s been pulled out of the patient’s body and allowed to cool. This means it can’t accidentally poke anyone, nor can it be reused.
When tested on mice, the P-CARE needle was found to deliver medication as reliably as commercial rigid needles, while producing “significantly less” inflammation at the insertion site. The scientists also demonstrated the needle’s capability to monitor body temperature via the addition of a thin temperature sensor.
“We’ve developed this special needle using advanced materials and micro/nano engineering techniques, and it can solve many global problems related to conventional medical needles used in healthcare worldwide,” said Prof. Jae-Woong Jeong, who led the study along with Prof. Won-Il Jeong.