Cooling device numbs skin prior to getting a shot

The researchers say the device could be used prior to ear piercings or tattoos, as well.
By Brooks Hays  |  April 15, 2015 at 3:22 PM
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HOUSTON, April 15 (UPI) -- Most Americans get at least one shot each year, whether at the doctor's office or a local pharmacy. Growing children typically get several, as they are vaccinated for a variety of new and ancient illnesses. Researchers at Rice University are trying to make those shots hurt a little bit less.

A team of freshman engineering students at the school -- they call themselves Comfortably Numb -- have developed a device the produces a rapid chemical reaction to cool a patient's skin prior to receiving an injection.

Testing proves the device is capable of numbing a patient's skin within 60 seconds.

"Our [lab] device is 3-D-printed and consists of two sealed chambers containing the chemical ammonium nitrate and water," team member Mike Hua, a mechanical engineering major at Rice, said in a press release. "A simple twisting motion moves the chambers into alignment to allow the chemicals to flow through the chamber to produce a rapid endothermic reaction. We then numb the skin by contacting the device's metal surface to the patient's skin."

Current numbing methods used to protect young people from the pain of vaccines and other injections are either ineffective or overly time-consuming, researchers argue.

"We looked into all sorts of methods for numbing, both quick and long-term, chemicals, using ice packs -- which is similar to what we're using now," Hua said. "We explored everything that surrounded the problem before we even began brainstorming."

Hua and his research partners say their device could be used prior to ear piercings or tattoos.

"At the end of the day, what we're creating is a self-contained device with a very cold contact surface, and there are many applications for that," added team member Greg Allison, a computer engineering major.

The team designed their device to be single-use, one-and-done, in order to avoid the need for cleaning and resetting the numbing mechanism -- favoring efficiency over waste-reduction. Even though it's not reusable, the researchers say their device is affordable.

"The materials that we use are relatively inexpensive and found in abundance: plastic, rubber and metal," explained bioengineering major Andy Zhang. "The materials for one of these cost about a quarter, and then we just had to do estimates based on how much manufacturing would cost. We compared our device to similar things already in production, and we've estimated the cost at about $2."

Team Comfortably Numb is currently in the process of applying for a patent, and hope to continue perfecting their technology and its various applications when they return to school from summer break.

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