Infection Intel: Revolutionizing Blood Sampling: Innovative Device Offers Pain-Free and Accessible Solution

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A new medical device uses microneedles and a suction cup to simplify blood sampling. It aids needle-phobic patients and benefits low-income regions with cost-effective diagnostics.

An image of the blood sampling medical device  (Image credit: Study authors/JAMA)

An image of the blood sampling medical device

(Image credit: Study authors/JAMA)

Many patients fear needles, which can cause many issues for health care workers trying to help them. With this in mind, Nicole Zoratto, PhD, lead author on the paper; David Klein Cerrejon, doctoral student, D-CHAB, both researchers for Drug Formation & Delivery at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, have developed a new, cost-effective medical device inspired by leeches' blood-sucking mechanism.

This device is designed to help individuals with needle phobia and to provide assistance in low-income regions. It uses microneedles and a suction cup instead of traditional large needles for blood sampling.

By drawing inspiration from leeches, which attach to hosts and extract blood efficiently through hypobaric pressure, the team has created a system that simplifies blood collection. Unlike conventional methods, this device can be used at home with minimal training, offering a less painful and invasive alternative.

This approach is particularly valuable for children, reducing anxiety and risk of needlestick injuries. Additionally, its design ensures higher blood volume collection than fingerstick methods, improving the reliability of diagnostic tests. This technology holds significant potential for enhancing health care access and disease management in resource-limited settings, especially in the fight against tropical diseases like malaria.

ICT: What inspired the development of this new medical device, and how does it differ from traditional methods of taking blood samples?

Nicole Zoratto, PhD, lead author; David Klein Cerrejon, doctoral student, D-CHAB: The concept for our blood microsampling device originated during David Klein Cerrejon and his colleagues' work on a suction cup aimed at enhancing drug absorption through the buccal mucosa. Drawing inspiration from the structure and anatomy of leeches, we considered how these creatures attach to their hosts, bite through the skin, and efficiently extract a large volume of blood in a relatively short time thanks to the generation of hypobaric pressure. This observation inspired us to design a similar system for blood collection.

Compared to traditional venipuncture, our microsampling device eliminates the need for highly-trained specialists as any adult can easily utilize it following simple instructions, facilitating at-home sample collection. Additionally, its use of a microneedle patch may offer a less painful and invasive alternative to hypodermic needles. This feature and the concealed microneedle patch can enhance children's acceptance and reduce the risk of needlestick injuries.

Also, compared to fingerstick procedures, our microsampling device allows for a higher blood volume collection, overcoming the drop-to-drop variability of fingersticks and expanding the applicability of several point-of-care tests combined with fingersticks.

Finally, in contrast to currently available microsampling devices such as the Tasso On Demand and TAP II devices, our device is highly cost-effective and particularly suitable for low- and middle-income countries with limited resources.

ICT: How do microneedles [MNs] and a suction cup address the challenges faced by people with needle phobia during blood sample collection?

NZ, CKC: Compared to routine blood sampling methods (venipuncture or finger stick), our device will be equipped with hidden MNs and nontransparent blood storage, which reduce anxiety and thus should improve patients’ [adherence]. Positive factors for MNs acceptance by people with needle phobia may include the significant reduction of pain related to the minimally invasive MNs technology and the attractive visual appearance of the device that does not resemble syringes.

The device’s manufacturing using nontransparent material and hidden MNs will prevent people (especially children) from seeing the MN array and the blood withdrawn.

ICT: Can you explain how this technology could benefit low-income regions like sub-Saharan Africa in the fight against tropical diseases such as malaria?

NZ, CKC: The possibility of combining the device with commercially available point-of-care systems on-site may accelerate the management of several diseases in low-resource settings and may provide access to routine screening, for instance during the prenatal and postnatal periods. Coupled with the larger blood volume obtained compared to fingersticks, this technology could allow for multiple real-time diagnostic tests to be performed with a high degree of reliability sequentially, by using a single sample.

Moreover, we also opted not to commercially explore the technology but to present a comprehensive open-source concept, as doing so could potentially limit its accessibility to developed countries.

ICT: What are some key advantages of using this device in regions with limited access to healthcare infrastructure?

NZ, CKC: With this device, trained adults without a professional background in health care can self-collect blood samples or assist children during blood withdrawal. As a result, the absence of well-trained specialists in rural areas and low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) may no longer impede access to diagnostics, and health care costs associated with medical staff will be strongly reduced to only device and transportation costs.

Our device's simple bioinspired design does not involve expensive microfluidics components, allowing its fabrication without the need for high-tech production plants. Therefore, the simple fabrication, together with the inexpensive materials, lowers production expenses. This may, in turn, facilitate the establishment of manufacturing plants even in resource-constrained settings, ensuring a steady global supply chain even in less developed countries.

ICT: What are the potential implications of this technology for improving health care accessibility and patient experience globally?

NZ, CKC: Our blood microsampling device may contribute to health care decentralization in developed countries and LMICs. Its low cost, minimal invasiveness, and the possibility of being combined with point-of-care systems make it a more accessible alternative to existing technologies.

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