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Verily’s ‘exploding micro-needles’ are a fix for a problem that doesn’t exist

Verily’s ‘exploding micro-needles’ are a fix for a problem that doesn’t exist


There’s already a tiny gadget for drawing blood: it’s called a needle

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Photo by Cory Zapatka / The Verge

Somehow, Silicon Valley hasn’t learned from the train wreck that was Theranos. The latest rumors are that Verily, formerly Google Life Sciences, is developing a painless blood-collection gadget “using a system of exploding micro-needles and magnets,” CNBC’s Christina Farr reports. So Silicon Valley is back at trying to fix blood tests again — one of the few parts of health care that doesn’t need fixing.

The device is a prototype, Farr says, and the Verily team is still figuring out what to do with it. Mounted on a watch, the tiny needles could, say, be used to nonintrusively collect blood from patients in the hospital or monitor blood during clinical trials, according to Farr. (Verily declined to comment to Farr, and did not respond immediately to my email.)

The point is: needles are plenty small already

But there’s a secret that Silicon Valley apparently hasn’t clued into yet: there’s already a piece of technology that pierces the skin to collect blood. It’s called a needle, and it’s already very, very small. In fact, there are expressions about just how small needles are: needle in a haystack is one of them. Threading a needle. Camel through the eye of a needle, the internet tells me. The point is: needles are plenty small already. That’s why you can’t fit a camel through the eye of one.

Now, I’m not speaking for people who need to be continuously monitored, like diabetics. Finding a way to track glucose without puncturing the skin would be fantastic — if very difficult. But I assume micro-needles would still go under the skin? And I’m also not speaking for people with needle phobias, although somehow I doubt a “system of exploding micro-needles and magnets” is the best workaround.

I’m speaking for myself — someone who’s mostly healthy, but with enough issues that I visit the lab every few months to bleed. And a needle works just fine for me. In fact, there are only two things that irritate me when I have to get blood drawn, and neither is the size of the needle puncturing my vein. One is that I’ve heard it’s a bad idea to do a heavy arm workout right afterward. So just in case, I plan leg day, cardio, or rest (let’s be real — it’s usually rest) for the days I get blood drawn. Problem solved. The other is the clinic’s hours, which conveniently overlap with when I’m supposed to be working. A smaller needle won’t solve that: longer clinic hours would. (If I didn’t have good insurance, the cost would be another pain point.)

But Silicon Valley is infamous for its solutions in search of problems, and its fixation with blood tests is a *chef’s kiss* example. Take Theranos, which pledged to perform tons of tests on just a pinprick of blood. It didn’t work, and it wasted hundreds of millions of dollars. So, can we stop trying to fix blood draws already? Verily and venture capitalists, there are lots of causes that deserve your dough, but humans have had drawing blood down to a science for a while now. Maybe we could spend those funds on, say, keeping women from dying while producing the next generation or getting new antibiotics into the clinics to combat growing resistance.

I have lots of ideas, and your PR teams definitely have my email address.