Popular Science has released the list of its Best of What’s New: Personal Health for 2004. This year’s Grand Award winner is a nifty SonoPrep Skin Permeation Device, that “uses acoustics to take the sting out of shots”.
SonoPrep is the brainchild of Robert Langer, an MIT-trained chemical engineer who hit upon a novel way to penetrate the skin’s outermost layer, the stratum corneum. This thin casing of dead skin cells and fatty lipids seals out most everything that touches it. “Under a microscope, it looks like bricks and mortar,” Langer says. In 1995 he helped discover that a blast of low-frequency ultrasound can liquefy the mortarlike fat molecules, opening temporary gaps so that large drug molecules can pass through.
Patients who get sonicated hear a soda-pop fizz and feel a slight tingling, but that’s it – the stratum corneum contains no nerves to register pain. In 15 seconds, the skin is properly perforated and ready to soak up meds. Everything returns to normal within a day, according to Langer.
The device is initially being used to cut the activation time of the anesthetic cream Lidocaine from an hour to five minutes. But Langer’s company, Sontra (sontra.com), has teamed with Bayer Diagnostics to engineer a needle-free blood-sugar monitor – a godsend for the nation’s 18 million diabetics.
More winners can be found here.