For many, visiting the doctor is a stressful experience especially when one has to get blood drawn. The fear of needles, known as trypanophobia (the fear of injections, specifically,) is surprisingly common in the United States. Approximately 20 percent of people in the U.S. have a fear of needles, which can have some serious consequences. (Healthline, “Needle Phobia Facts,” 2015). It is not uncommon for those afraid of needles to skip routine doctor visits or even skip prescribed medications that involve injections or drawing blood. An example can be seen with diabetics who skip glucose monitoring and insulin injections. Without proper care, diabetics put themselves at serious risk for complications. In the larger scope, the general fear of needles has led to greater risk of illness and death.
Doctors and medical researchers are well aware of trypanophobia and researchers at the National Institutes of Health have been working on gathering more precise data regarding the prevalence of fear of needles as well as trying to find ways to manage this fear. In a 2009 study, Wright et al. suggested health professionals need to step up not only with recognizing when patients have trypanophobia but also managing symptoms by recognizing the underlying causes of the fear, which often stem from vasovagal symptoms, involving the vagus nerve, or past traumatic experiences (“Fear of needles nature and prevalence in general practice,” 2009).
While doctors should actively be engaging with patients with any sort of medical concern, including the fear of needles, a new device has been created that will hopefully eliminate some issues with the use of needles in medical offices.
Graduates of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have recently formed a company called Tasso that developed a device that does away with using a needle to draw blood. Instead, the device, called the HemoLink blood sampler, uses vacuum suction to draw blood from open channels in the capillaries (Gizmag, “New sampling device promises to make blood tests needle-free,” 4.21.15). Vice President and Co-Founder of Tasso Inc. Ben Casavant said in a press release, “The technology relies on the forces that govern the flow of tiny fluid stream. At these scales, surface tension dominates over gravity, and that keeps the blood in the channel no matter how you hold the device” (Science Alert, “This new painless and self-administered blood test could replace needles”, 4.20.15).
The current model of the device only takes two minutes for extraction and is set to collect approximately 0.15 cubic centimeters of blood the amount that is needed for most routine lab analyses. However, there are still many questions regarding the HemoLink. One article I found suggested that researchers are still trying to figure out how to keep the blood at an optimal temperature for the trip to the lab, which has been difficult since the sample can’t be submerged in ice. With that being said, another article suggested that the HemoLink can keep the extracted blood for more than ten days and it can accommodate more than one sample. This article also suggested that the blood sample is transferred to the laboratory at low temperatures to help avoid spoilage. (Real Tech Today, “New device will replace needles in the process of extracting blood”, 4.21.15). It isn’t clear if there are limitations given the mixed reports.
Nonetheless, the possibility of technical issues has not stopped Tasso from promoting their new device. Tasso is hoping to get HemoLink approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration later this year, with an overall goal of getting the device on the market in 2016.
While I am very excited for the HemoLink, I am concerned with some of the logistics involving sample transfer since there are conflicting reports. However, I also acknowledge that reporting on this product is still in the early stage, and I shouldn’t get too caught up in technicalities. I suspect if they are seeking approval from the FDA that there is a way to store the blood for transfer in some capacity.
I suppose my real concern is, what about actual injections? This device doesn’t get rid of the fear; instead, it just dances circles around it. While I do believe this innovative it will help many feel more confortable getting blood drawn for medical tests, it is not a be-all and end-all solution to trypanophobia. For the movement of ending the fear to be considered successful, scientists must continue to find ways to manage this phobia or find a way to be able to eliminate needles all together.
—Delaney Fischer ’15 is a neuroscience major.