Skip to main content
Move the World.
syringe for Biologics

Lead Image Courtesy of Jose-Luis Olivares & MIT

The latest healthcare breakthrough out of MIT isn't a new medication or treatment. It's a reimagining of the humble syringe that could dramatically increase access to a powerful class of drugs.

Known as "biologics," these drugs are derived from living cells — botox and human insulin are two examples — and they have a host of advantages over their synthetic counterparts.

"(Biologics) enable a degree of personalization, specificity, and immune response that just isn't available with small-molecule drugs," researcher Vishnu Jayaprakash told MIT News. "That's why, globally, people are pushing toward biologic drugs."

The Biologics Bottleneck

Today, doctors use biologics to treat a range of health problems, from diabetes to various cancers, but administering the drugs is complicated.

Many biologics are highly viscous, meaning their consistency is sticky and thick, like honey. Because of this, more than 100 known biologics are impossible to inject with a standard syringe.

There are a few alternatives, but none is ideal, particularly when considering how to treat people in developing nations or rural areas.

Doctors can dilute the drugs and deliver them via an IV, but that's only viable for patients who have access to a hospital or clinic (and time to kill). Auto-injectors like the Epi-Pen are currently too expensive for widespread use. Jet injectors are also costly, and they're prone to contamination.

"Where drug delivery and biologics are going, injectability is becoming a big bottleneck, preventing formulations that could treat diseases more easily," researcher Kripa Varanasi said.

A Better Syringe

To address this problem, MIT researchers developed a new low-cost syringe that makes it possible to inject viscous biologics without diluting them.

Rather than containing one barrel, like a standard syringe, MIT's contains two, one inside the other.

The biologic goes in the interior barrel and a thin lubricant goes in the other. When the syringe's plunger is depressed, the lubricant coats the biologic, helping it exit the needle with less resistance.

According to the study, published in the journal Advanced Healthcare Materials, the syringe reduced the amount of force needed to inject even the most viscous drug tested by 85%.

Now, all 100 of the biologics that were previously too viscous for delivery via syringe can be injected, opening up their use in places where other delivery options aren't feasible.

"There should be no reason why this approach, given its simplicity, can't help solve what we've heard from industry is an emerging problem," Varanasi said. "The foundational work is done. Now it's just applying it to different formulations."

We'd love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Freethink story, please email us at [email protected].

Up Next

Medical Innovation
Forget Needles - This Thin Strip May Improve Access to Vaccinations
vaccinations
Medical Innovation
Forget Needles - This Thin Strip May Improve Access to Vaccinations
Temperature stable vaccinations could change how we store and transport life-saving medicine to the places that need it most.

Temperature stable vaccinations could change how we store and transport life-saving medicine to the places that need it most.

Dispatches
Insulin Pills Could Change Everything for Diabetics
insulin pills
Dispatches
Insulin Pills Could Change Everything for Diabetics
A pill instead of a needle would be the "holy grail" for diabetes treatment.

A pill instead of a needle would be the "holy grail" for diabetes treatment.

Superhuman
Is the Miracle Medicine of the Future About to Become the Totally Real Medicine of...
Is the Miracle Medicine of the Future About to Become the Totally Real Medicine of the Present?
Superhuman
Is the Miracle Medicine of the Future About to Become the Totally Real Medicine of...
Gene therapy uses a virus to replace missing or defective genes. It sounds counterintuitive, but it could be the...
By Mike Riggs

Gene therapy uses a virus to replace missing or defective genes. It sounds counterintuitive, but it could be the key to curing previously incurable diseases.

Dispatches
Precision Medicine Cured an “Untreatable” Stage IV Breast Cancer
Precision Medicine Cured  an “Untreatable” Stage IV Breast Cancer
Dispatches
Precision Medicine Cured an “Untreatable” Stage IV Breast Cancer
Two years ago, she had two months to live.

Two years ago, she had two months to live.

On the Cusp
How Virtual Reality is Changing Medicine
How Virtual Reality is Changing Medicine
On the Cusp
How Virtual Reality is Changing Medicine
From virtual hearts to immersive battlefields, doctors and scientists are using virtual reality to transform medicine
By Brandon Stewart

From virtual hearts to immersive battlefields, doctors and scientists are using virtual reality to transform medicine

Reverse Innovation
MacGyver Medicine Can Save Lives
MacGyver Medicine Can Save Lives
Reverse Innovation
MacGyver Medicine Can Save Lives
The package is simple and dirt-cheap—a plastic bag with a condom, a syringe, a rubber tube, and a card with...

The package is simple and dirt-cheap—a plastic bag with a condom, a syringe, a rubber tube, and a card with instructions—but it can mean the difference between a mother living and dying.

Superhuman
Three Women Who Changed the Way We Think About Medicine
Three Women Who Changed the Way We Think About Medicine
Superhuman
Three Women Who Changed the Way We Think About Medicine
From newborn health to AIDS treatment to DNA research, these brilliant women paved the way for incredible advances...
By Mike Riggs

From newborn health to AIDS treatment to DNA research, these brilliant women paved the way for incredible advances in the field of medicine.

Superhuman
Using Virtual Reality to Help Kids with Autism
Using Virtual Reality to Help Kids with Autism
Watch Now
Superhuman
Using Virtual Reality to Help Kids with Autism
A virtual world offers a new way to engage with kids on the spectrum.
Watch Now

When their autistic son fell in love with a virtual reality headset, Vibha and Vijay Ravindran got an idea: could this unlimited digital world help people who have trouble engaging in the physical world? Together, they founded a company called Floreo to develop VR programs for people with developmental disabilities, helping them break free from the constraints of their bodies and the typical pressures of their learning...

Superhuman
The World's Most Advanced Bionic Arm
The World's Most Advanced Bionic Arm
Superhuman
The World's Most Advanced Bionic Arm
A fascinating interview with Michael P. McLoughlin, the chief engineer of research and exploratory development at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.
By Mike Riggs

A fascinating interview with Michael P. McLoughlin about bionic arms for amputees and the world of advanced prosthetics. McLoughlin is the chief engineer of research and exploratory development at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.