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New smart needles make epidural injections safer for patients

You may know the dangers of getting an epidural injection if you've suffered the side effects. A needle that goes in too far puts you at risk for spinal cord damage, and a needle that doesn't go in far enough won't deliver the medications you need accurately. If you've been hurt this way, a medical malpractice lawsuit might be one solution, but another is to work on prevention.

Smart needles are a new invention that can make injections safer for anyone using them. The needle, which is embedded with an optical sensor, makes medical procedures safer.

Why is that important? Assuming that a doctor places the needle correctly is usually what patients do, but if you could verify that it was in the right place, that would be better. When a needle needs to be placed precisely, knowing exactly where it is helps doctors guide it in and eliminates the risks associated with going in blind.

Researchers at MIT and the Massachusetts General Hospital developed an optical sensor that becomes embedded in a needle used for epidurals. The sensor's goal is to help the doctor guide the needle through the person's tissues, helping make operations safer and reducing the risk of errors.

How does it work? The sensor, which uses Raman spectroscopy, reads the actual chemical properties of different tissues to determine where it's located. By identifying the concentrations of different properties, doctors can identify where the needle is. For example, an epidural needs to pass through five different layers of tissues, each with a different, and distinct, chemical makeup. This sensor has been tested with 100 percent accuracy.

Source: Engineering.com, "Smart Needles to Make Injections Safer," Michael Alba, Sep. 14, 2016

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