Tattoos Can One Day Become a Revolutionary New Way to Monitor Your Health

Researchers at Harvard developed new color-changing tattoo ink that responds to changes in the body, such as blood sugar and sodium levels.

DermalAbyss is a proof-of-concept that presents a novel approach to bio-interfaces in which the body surface is rendered an interactive display. Traditional tattoo inks are replaced with biosensors whose colors change in response to variations in the interstitial fluid. It blends advances in biotechnology with traditional methods in tattoo artistry.

Using a liquid with biosensors instead of traditional ink, scientists want to turn the surface of the human skin into an “interactive display” – an idea that makes this proof-of-concept an exciting one to watch. Technology like this could become a revolutionary new way to monitor health.

Researchers investigated four biosensors, reacting to three pieces of biochemical information in body fluid and changes colors: The pH sensor changes between purple and pink, the glucose sensor shifts between blue and brown; the sodium and a second pH sensor fluoresce at a higher intensity under UV light.

Credit: Xin LIU, Katia Vega

The Dermal Abyss creates a direct access to the compartments in the body and reflects inner metabolic processes in a shape of a tattoo. It could be used for applications in continuously monitoring such as medical diagnostics, quantified self, and data encoding in the body.

Currently, during daily activities and before eating, diabetics need to monitor their glucose levels by piercing the skin, 3 to 10 times per day. With Dermal Abyss, we can imagine the future where the painful procedure is replaced with a tattoo, of which the color from pink to purple based on the glucose levels. Thus, the user could monitor the color changes and the need of insulin.

The researchers have tested the inks on patches of pig skin, using injections to change the levels of the fluids to be detected. Several injections in the skin were done in order to understand the visibility and functionality of the biosensors.

This is how the technology works-

 

Before this amazing technology can be approved in humans, it will need to go through several stages of testing, probably in animals first and then eventually in people. Things to look out for are toxicities of these inks.

There’s also the question of how to make sure the tattoo indicators are as accurate as possible. In a medical situation, you’d want that colour-changing ‘interface’ to be as reliable as a blood test, and we’re definitely not there yet.

“It will take a long time for anything practical to go to market, but it [the technology] evokes imaginations and opens up possibilities,” Liu told CBS News.

Sripathi R. Kethu, M.D. FACG.

Dr Kethu is a Gastroenterologist in Dallas.

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