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Health Capsules
May 2005
Needle-Free Injections

For the millions of Americans afraid of needles, help may be on the way. A new medical device now available in some hospitals and clinics can inject medicines without the jab of a needle. The device, called SonoPrep®, is being used to numb skin for painful procedures such as the insertion of catheters or intravenous tubing.

Traditionally, doctors numb skin by injecting a local anesthetic through a needle. This method can take some time and it hurts, whereas SonoPrep does the job painlessly in just five minutes.

SonoPrep works through ultrasound technology. Developed with NIH funding to Dr. Robert Langer of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the device uses battery power to apply sound waves to skin for 15 seconds. This ultrasonic energy subtly rearranges the fat molecules in skin to create tiny channels that small amounts of liquid can flow through. The skin isn't harmed by the process, and within a day it returns to normal.

Langer has licensed the technology to a company, Sontra Medical Corp., that plans to test the system for various other medical uses, including vaccination. They are also trying to develop a device that measures blood sugar in people with diabetes and gives them just the right amount of insulin at the right time.

Definitions iconDefinitions
Anesthetic :
Medicine that can block pain
and other sensations.

Catheter :
A hollow, flexible tube put into the body to let fluids or air through. Example: catheters are used to drain urine from the bladder.

Intravenous :
Inside a vein.

Ultrasound :
Sound waves that can't be heard
by the human ear.

  Gene Increases Risk of Blindness    

Scientists have found a gene that affects a person's risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in people over age 60. The finding was made by three independent teams supported by NIH's National Eye Institute (NEI). The discovery may lead to early detection methods and new ways of preventing and treating the debilitating eye disease.

There is no known cure for AMD, which blurs or destroys sharp, central vision. Most scientists think it's caused by the interplay of genes and other factors.

The three teams used different methods to study the genomes of different groups of AMD patients. All three teams found a link between a variation of a gene called complement factor H (CFH) and AMD. One team, which included NEI's own researchers, found that people with this variant of the CFH gene are more than seven times more likely to develop the disease.

CFH, it turns out, helps regulate inflammation in part of the immune system that attacks diseased and damaged cells. This CFH variant, the researchers believe, might contribute to the development of AMD by affecting the level of inflammation in the eyes. This insight suggests new avenues for researchers to pursue in developing ways to diagnose and treat AMD.


Definitions iconDefinitions
Gene :
Stretches of DNA, a substance you inherit from your parents, that define characteristics like height and eye color.

Full set of genes (in a person or any other living thing).

Swelling of tissue, often accompanied by redness and pain.

Immune System :
System that protects the body from invading viruses, bacteria, and other microscopic threats.

Featured Web Site iconFeatured Web Site
The Cool Spot:
The young teen's place for info on alcohol. Games and graphics deal with the risks of underage drinking and how to resist peer pressure. Based on a curriculum developed by researchers supported by NIH's National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
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