Needle-Free Flu Shots and a Pacemaker That's Really a Rolex

Thanks to advances in healthcare technology, two new gadgets are poised to make two very unglamorous medical procedures a little less painful for patients. The first is a seasonal flu shot.

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FDA Approves Needle-Free Flu Shot

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved Afluria. It is the first needle-free delivery system for an inactivated influenza vaccine. It's approved for use in adults ages 18 to 64.

With Afluria, a precise and narrow fluid stream penetrates the skin in about one-tenth of a second to deliver a dose of the vaccine. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an annual flu shot helps protect you against the strains of flu virus most likely to circulate each year. An estimated 5 to 20 percent of U.S. residents get the flu every year. More than 200,000 people on average are hospitalized every year for flu-related complications.

The flu can cause complications such as dehydration, bacterial pneumonia, and a worsening of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and asthma. When kids have the flu, they may also come down with ear infections or sinus problems.

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Some people don’t get the flu vaccine because they dislike like being jabbed in the arm with a needle. But Ron Lowy, CEO and co-chairman of PharmaJet, the company that developed Afluria’s needle-free injector, said in a news release that he hopes people who fear needles will now be able to get a flu vaccination thanks to this new technology.

According to the CDC, whatever discomfort you may feel from a flu shot is worthwhile, since it will help you avoid the suffering of a week-long illness.

PharmaJet adds that its needle-free technology will help protect healthcare workers from issues like needlestick injuries. It will also help prevent needle reuse, and reduce the effort and cost required to safely dispose of used needles.

New Pacemaker Works Without Batteries

Heart pacemakers recently went wireless. Now, the technology is being taken a step further — doing away with the battery altogether. The new batteryless cardiac pacemaker prototype has been developed by Swiss researchers.

It is powered by the heart’s own motion and is based on the design of a mechanical watch. Unlike traditional pacemakers, it never requires surgery to replace a battery. 

The prototype was discussed at the European Society of Cardiology's annual meeting in Barcelona, Spain. It was presented by Adrian Zurbuchen, a Ph.D. candidate in the cardiovascular engineering group at the ARTORG Center for Biomedical Engineering Research at the University of Bern in Switzerland.

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Zurbuchen said in a press statement that current pacemakers have two major disadvantages. One, they can break, which can threaten a patient’s health. And two, their battery life is limited. Pacemakers that are low on battery power need to be replaced, even though they’re working properly otherwise.

“This is an unpleasant scenario which increases costs and the risk of complications for patients,” Zurbuchen said. 

He explained how in his prototype, the heart’s motion powers the device. Researchers took a basic automatic wristwatch and made it lighter and smaller by removing unnecessary parts. They also created a customized case for the watch, which allows it to be sewn right into the myocardium, the muscular tissue of the heart. 

The prototype works just like it would on your wrist. When it is wound externally, the clock starts rotating. That winds a mechanical spring. Once the spring is charged, it unwinds.

Zurbuchen said, “We have shown that it is possible to pace the heart using the power of its own motion.”

Photo courtesy of PharmaJet.

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