A revolutionary procedure that uses a stream of gas to open up small holes in the skin, allowing drugs to be given with the wipe of a swab, could soon end the need for painful injections, US medical scientists report.

The technique, known as microscission, uses gas to bombard a small area of skin with crystals, removing the rough surface-layer and creating tiny holes through which drugs can be administered. In recent trials, scientists found that holes up to a fifth of a millimetre deep -enough to reach a patients bloodstream – could be created without even touching the skin.

A local anaesthetic, the test medication, was then successfully applied with a swab. Experts believe that the 20-second procedure could revolutionise how vaccinations and other needle-based medications are administered.

Volunteers described the microscission procedure, reported in the journal BMC Medicine, as completely painless. The only sensation is of a gentle stream of air against the skin. A team of researchers, from the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology in Cambridge, said that the procedure offered the first serious alternative to needles as a means of delivering drugs through the skin.

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