Who Invented the Syringe Needle?

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Various forms of intravenous injection and infusion have been around as far back as the late 1600s. However, it wasn't until 1853 that Charles Gabriel Pravaz and Alexander Wood developed a needle fine enough to pierce the skin. The syringe was the first device used to inject morphine as a painkiller. The breakthrough also eliminated many of the technical difficulties facing those experimenting with blood transfusion.

Credit for the evolution of the universally useful hypodermic syringe with its hollow, pointed needle is usually given to Dr. Wood. He came up with the invention after experimenting with a hollow needle for the administration of drugs and found that the method was not necessarily limited to the administration of opiates.

Eventually, he felt confident enough to publish a short paper in The Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Review titled “A New Method of Treating Neuralgia by the Direct Application of Opiates to the Painful Points.” At about the same time, Charles Gabriel Pravaz, of Lyon, was making a similar syringe that quickly came into use during surgeries under the name of the “Pravaz Syringe.”

A Brief Timeline of Disposable Syringes

  • Arthur E. Smith received eight U.S. patents for disposable syringes in 1949 and 1950.
  • In 1954, Becton, Dickinson and Company created the first mass-produced disposable syringe and needle produced in glass. It was developed for Dr. Jonas Salk's mass administration of the new Salk polio vaccine for one million American children.
  • Roehr Products introduced a plastic disposable hypodermic syringe called the Monoject in 1955.
  • Colin Murdoch, a pharmacist from Timaru, New Zealand, patented a plastic disposable syringe to replace the glass syringe in 1956. Murdoch patented a total of 46 inventions, including a silent burglar alarm, automatic syringes for vaccinating animals, the childproof bottle top and the tranquilizer gun.  
  • In 1961, Becton Dickinson introduced its first plastic disposable syringe, the Plastipak.
  • African American inventor Phil Brooks received a U.S. patent for a disposable syringe on April 9, 1974.

Syringes for Vaccinations 

Benjamin A. Rubin is credited for inventing the "pronged vaccinating and testing needle" or vaccination needle. This was a refinement to the conventional syringe needle.

Dr. Edward Jenner performed the first vaccination. The English physician began to develop vaccines by studying the link between smallpox and cowpox, a milder disease. He injected one boy with cowpox and found that the boy became immune to smallpox. Jenner published his findings in 1798. Within three years, as many as 100,000 people in Britain had been vaccinated against smallpox. 

Alternatives to Syringes 

The microneedle is a painless alternative to the needle and syringe. A chemical engineering professor from the Georgia Institute of Technology named Mark Prausnitz teamed up with electrical engineer Mark Allen to develop the prototype microneedle device.

It is made up of 400 silicon-based microscopic needles — each the width of a human hair — and looks something like the nicotine patch used to help people quit smoking.

Its tiny, hollow needles are so small that any medication can be delivered through the skin without reaching the nerve cells that create pain. Microelectronics within the device control the time and dosage of the medicine delivered.

Another delivery device is the Hypospray. Developed by PowderJect Pharmaceuticals in Fremont, California, the technology uses pressurized helium to spray dry powdered medications on the skin for absorption.