Less Invasive Way to Collect Blood Is Inspired by Leeches and Needs No Medical Training

credit – Zoratto et al. Advanced Science 2024

A new blood-draw device that’s painless but more reliable than a finger prick has been developed by researchers in Zurich to help physicians bypass two major problems with taking blood samples.

Needle phobia is a real thing, and can lead to sudden exhaustion, fainting, and dehydration. On the other hand, the classic finger prick device from your childhood was actually never a reliable tool, as it takes too little blood and produces imprecise measurements.

Now, a third option utilizing suction cups and microneedles will hopefully solve all these problems at once and more, since it doesn’t require any medical training to use.

The merest of drawbacks is the ghoulish inspiration the inventors drew from to design the device. Leeches attach to their hosts and suck blood by the creation of negative pressure—in other words, suction.

Rather than designing a tiny robotic leech, the team installed a series of microneedles in the center of a less-than-one-inch suction cup. When placed on an upper arm, the suction allows the needles to draw blood without penetrating very deeply at all into the skin, resulting in little to no discomfort.

The new device is very cost-effective to produce, says Nicole Zoratto, a postdoc at ETH Zurich and lead author of a paper describing her invention.

Zoratto also sees a future application for the new device in low-income regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, where tropical diseases like malaria are diagnosed through blood sampling.

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No special training is needed, and the micro-nature of the needles means there’s less of a risk of injury from used needles.

Before the device can be widely used on humans the material composition still needs to be optimized, the ETH Zurich press writes. Above all, safety must be tested with a small group of test subjects. As such studies are complex and expensive, the research group is still looking for a partner for further funding, for example, a charitable foundation.

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