If a fear of needles is the obstacle preventing many people with diabetes from adhering to their medication protocol, a needle-free injection device may be a game changer.

For conditions requiring multiple daily injections of precise doses, however, it may be a redundant attempt at technology that has already failed in the past, especially in the diabetes industry.

Portal Instruments, an MIT start-up company, has secured a commercial deal for their jet-injection device with hopes of reducing the pain and anxiety many patients experience with injections, according to a company press release.

The device works by delivering a “rapid, high-pressure stream of medicine, as thin as a strand of hair” through the skin, the press release states.

“The jet comes out at about Mach 0.7, so almost the cruising speed of an average commercial airliner,” said Patrick Anquetil, PhD, Portal co-founder and chief executive officer.

Company officials say the device causes little or no pain.

It communicates with a cell phone app that records administered doses.

Patients can also make notes, including whether the dose was effective in reducing their arthritis pain.

Portal Instruments hopes to sell the device in combination with a variety of drugs so it is an option for a variety of conditions.

Critics question necessity

Providing a needle-free injector containing different types of insulin would tap into the ever-growing diabetes industry.

However, experts in the diabetes field who’ve also lived with the condition for decades say they’ve already seen similar devices come and go.

“We’ve seen devices like these before and they are generally not very popular,” Gary Scheiner, CDE, MS, and founder of Integrated Diabetes Services, told Healthline.

Scheiner is one of the leading diabetes educators in the world and recipient of the American Diabetes Association’s 2014 “Diabetes Educator of the Year” award.

He’s also lived with type 1 diabetes since 1985 and has tried nearly every diabetes device and medication produced since then.

“From the Medi-Jector to the AdvantaJet to Exubera, and now AFREZZA, developers have this preconceived notion that type 2s would be happy to take insulin if it wasn’t for the need to give injections involving a needle,” he said.

They’re wrong, Scheiner contends.

“Today’s pens and syringes use needles that are incredibly tiny and fairly painless,” he explained. “Type 2 diabetic patients avoid insulin because their physicians don’t impress a need for it. There are much more effective alternatives offered now than there used to be. Insulin can also cause weight gain and hypoglycemia. And lastly, type 2 patients [incorrectly] associate insulin with terrible complications and eventual death.”

Scheiner adds that he would not invest a single research dollar into devices that “spare” patients from the need to inject insulin via syringe, pen, or pump.

“The type 2 diabetes community has much more important needs that have yet to be met,” said Scheiner, “primarily involving lifestyle choices and more in-depth diabetes education.”

Devices have been around

Scheiner’s opinion is shared by Dr. Stephen Ponder, an endocrinologist and co-author of the popular diabetes book, “Sugar Surfing,” Ponder has lived with type 1 diabetes since 1966.

“This is ‘back to the future,’” Ponder told Healthline of Portal Instrument’s jet-injector device. “Jet injections date back to World War II.”

Ponder referenced a jet injector device used for growth hormone administration in the mid-to-late 1990s that disappeared quickly and is no longer used.

“It’s the same with insulin. I have an old jet injector from the 1980s. No one used them or stuck with them. What did we not learn?” he said.

Portal Instrument’s device aims to be different than those from the past because of the speed at which any drug is administered.

Despite the many air-injector devices that have come and gone, Anquetil is optimistic about the technology’s future success.

“All along we’ve envisioned a device that was a universal injection machine,” Anquetil said. “Now that we’ve shown a viable business model — to partner with pharmaceutical companies to enhance their therapies — we can expect a few more partnerships next year and in the years to come.”