Needles. Everybody hates them. Even those of us who don’t have a phobia of them still find the process of jabbing sharpened metal into our skin to be a not so comfortable experience. Which might be why in science fiction we find that an alternative to this invasive experience is as common a staple as spaceships and laser beams. I’m speaking of course of the future’s most famous medical tool: Hypospray.
As is the case with most hypothetical futuristic technologies the hypospray was popularized on the original Star Trek stories. The story goes that it was an inventive way of getting around CBS’ standards and practices department’s ban on showing needles. And, of course, as is the case with most hypothetical futuristic technologies the hypospray may have been popularized on Star Trek but it first appears in science fiction years earlier, decades in fact. The term Hypospray was first used in 1947 in “The Comic Strip Killer” episode of the incredibly popular radio shoe The Shadow (a pulp favorite of this blog).
But, while you’ve seen in it on your favorite movies or tv shows, you may not understand what a “hypospray” is beyond being a medical instrument. The non-fictional term for a hypospray is a jet injector. It is a medical device that is mean to serve as an alternative type of injecting syringe to the traditional needle. It operates by using a high-pressure stream of liquid to penetrate the outer layer of skin to deliver medication directly to underlying tissue.
The truth is that this technology has existed for a long time. In fact, French factory workers had accidental jet injections all the way back in the 19th century with their grease guns (suffice to say this was not good). In 1866, A French doctor, Dr. Jean Sales-Giron, presented his jet injector invention at a conference and became the first known case of medication being delivered due to this method. The rise of diesel engines and the jet injection accidents that went with them but the idea of a similar type of medical delivery system in the zeitgeist and there were several concurrent attempts to perfect the technology in the early 20th century. By the time the 1950s had rolled around the jet-injector was being used to administer vaccines around the world.
But the jet injector had a fatal flaw. Because of the way in which it penetrates the skin, there is a high chance of biological material contaminating that device and passing that contamination on to each subsequent user. The Jet injector was linked to several Hepatitis B outbreaks and was subsequently recommended as an unsafe instrument by most major health organizations. So, we had hyposprays, and then we didn’t.
But never fear because a new generation of jet injectors have been invented, and in awesome, futuristic fashion they use lasers. Using an erbium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet, or Er:YAG laser these new jet injectors are actually micro-injectors with a penetration radius less than the width of a human hair with more force than previous versions, thus eliminating the problem of splashback.
These new laserjet injectors are still undergoing testing and are not yet being mass-produced but researchers are confident that they have a winner on their hands and expect a gradual transition from traditional needles to jet injectors over the next five to ten years. And while medical professionals may insist on the name jet injector, the rest of us nerds know what they should be called. Hypospray, We Can Do That Now.