Dunlap, Medi-Jector: Trekking to the Future

Captain’s Log, Stardate 43015.283.

Starfleet Command has dispatched the Enterprise to Tantus IV to assist in surpressing an outbreak of Rigellian Fever. Dr. Crusher has informed me that she and her staff will be administering vaccinations of glob-ulocinemum via Medi-Ject-ors in order to prevent the disease from spreading.

True, the above scenario is science fiction but it is firmly based on science fact – at least the part regarding the Medi-Jector is.

“Medi-Jector” is a brand name for a type of needle-less insulin injectors which use the force of a medicine compressed to six-1000ths of an inch to almost painlessly break the skin and inject medicine – in essence, a high-powered squirt gun. Star Trek and its three spin off series have been using similar hand-held, needle-less injection systems since the original show began airing in the late 1960s.

“If you watch closely,” said Dirk Dunlap, director of customer relations for Medi-Ject Corporation, “you’ll see that (contraption) actually is a Medi-Jector.”

The 37-year-old Minneapolis native should know – he presented two Medi-Jectors to DeForest Kelly, who played Dr. Leonard (Bones) McCoy in the original series, through a customer, who just so happened to be the president of Kelly’s fan club.

According to Dunlap, Kelly in turn gave one sample to Paramount Pictures and kept another, which Kelly reportedly shows from time to time and says, “Look what came from our television show.”

The other sample languished in the Paramount archives until a prop man from Star Trek: The Next Generation came across it, added some lights and color, and presented it to Gates McFadden, who, in her role as Dr. Beverly Crusher, used it several times during the show’s seven-year run.

However, the story of the Medi-Jector and Dirk Dunlap’s role in its origin is a little more, well, down to earth.

Diagnosed as having diabetes in the sixth grade, Dunlap – who said that before his diagnosis he needed at least three nurses to hold him down when he got injections -had been using needles for taking his insulin. Then one day in either 1972 or 1973 (Dunlap doesn’t remember which), his father, Ken, came home from his job as a pharmaceutical engineer with a prototype needle-less injection system. Dirk was playing basketball at a neighbor’s when Ken called him home.

“He pulled out what we now refer to as the ‘Silver Beast’ – the original Medi-Jector,” Dunlap said. “He said, ‘Here, this is for taking your insulin injections.’

“He then added, ‘Be careful with it – it’s a $150,000 prototype.’ “

The “Silver Beast” – a 7-inch long, 4.5 pound machine made of stainless steel -was quite different from the Medi-Jectors of today. It used 12 springs to generate enough pressure to squirt insulin though the skin and needed to have the insulin in an externally-attached bottle. Though the Silver Beast was calibrated to inject three different types of insulin, its pressure – a whopping 18,000 pounds per square inch – was not adjustable. After a month of muscle aches, Dirk said, “Thanks, but no thanks,” and switched back to needles.

In 1976, Ken Dunlap came back with an adjustable version. It “made a world of difference” said Dirk, who has been using the Medi-Jector straight since then.

Ken Dunlap, originally hired as an engineering consultant, eventually came to own the company, which is now know as Medi-Ject. According to Dirk, the purchase was financed by using Dirk’s college tuition. Dirk – after making it to college nonetheless – joined the company full time in 1980 and has held various positions since.

Besides the obvious advantage of a needle-less injection -a comparative absence of pain -the reusable Medi-Jector has other factors in its favor.

“Needles have been a great boon to medicine for many, many years,” Dirk said. “Now the down side is becoming apparent. In terms of disposal, the concern used to (just) be environmental.

“But now with hepatitis and HIV, the pharmaceutical companies are seeing needles as a liability. More of these companies are packing drugs to be used at home and are reluctant to put their ‘miracle medicines’ in syringes.”

The market is burgeoning for needle-less injections devices, which are used in Europe and Japan for other medicines and drugs – such as human growth hormones – as well as insulin. So far, except for test cases, Medi-Jector use in the United States has been limited to insulin injection. Dirk Dunlap believes other uses are just around the corner.

“As time moves along, people will certainly hear more about alternate drug delivery systems,” he said.

But for Dirk, there’s much more than simply making money in the business for him.

“I’ve never thought of myself as a sales person,” he said. “I really enjoy what I do -one, because I do like dealing with people, and two, there is a feeling of satisfaction when we help people.”

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