Hate Needles? Potential 3-D Printed Device May Be Alternative

Research in the Journal of Family Practice identified that at least 20% of Americans have needle phobia. This can result in many critical preventive procedures like vaccines and flu shots being avoided. Many experts deem this as a public health issue. 


Enter Comfortably Numb, an alternative device to needles being innovated by two students at Rice University. 

This new device makes getting an injection practically painless.

How does it work?

The device is about the size of a quarter in diameter and less than two inches long. A small 3-D printed canister is attached to a hypodermic needle. From there, a small amount of water and ammonium nitrate (same ingredient found in commercial ice packs) are suspended inside the canister. 

The canister then gets twisted, breaking the seal between the two ingredients. This causes the metal plate at the bottom of device to become cold.

Then attached to a syringe, the device numbs the skin by cooling it to 4.5 degrees Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit) right before needle hits the skin,

The benefits:

  • Faster, efficient and disposable, making it more hygienic than needles
  • No chemicals ever touch skin
  • FDA looks at this as a Band-Aid
    • Doesn't have to pass same sort of regulatory hurdles needles or other medical devices have to

Developers are confident this device lowers needle pain by at least two points on a 1-5 pain scale. It was specifically developed to help with pain around certain types of injections like the face or groin. The inventors wanted a device that numbs the skin before injection but in a much quicker way than applying traditional numbing agents. 

The device uses 3-D printers from both FormLabs and Stratasys to quickly prototype the design. Although it needs clinical trials, the cost if brought to market would be $2/canister, which is more than the average needle, priced at $.35 each.

Experts say, for doctors who give a lot of injections, it could be worth the extra cost.