- In certain situations, patients need frequent monitoring of their blood sugar or other substances necessitating repeated finger-pricking, or injections, to draw blood.
- A biosensor tattoo has been developed that changes color, depending on the levels of blood sugar, pH and sodium, and could be used to monitor health status.
The future might not be far away! Biosensor tattoos, which are still in the testing stage at present,
could one day become an exciting new way to keep track of our health, overcoming the need for frequent pricks. A research project, called Dermal Abyss, a collaboration between scientists from MIT and Harvard Medical School, combining technology from Fluid Interfaces and biotechnology, is currently developing this novel, imaginative technique for monitoring health.
Whether one is a fan of tattoos or not, this research at least changes the way we look at tattoos, and begin to understand other interesting ways of using it.
Tests For Which Biosensor Tattoos Have Been Developed
As yet, the research team has created biosensor inks that change color in response to 3 commonly measured parameters
in the hospital setting. These include blood glucose, blood pH and serum sodium
‘Some time in the future, it might be possible to monitor your health with tattoos using biosensor ink.’
The biosensor tattoo that measures blood glucose, changes color from blue to brown
as the blood sugar level increases. Another tattoo shifts from pink to purple with changing pH
levels, and a third biosensor can detect sodium, glowing a vibrant green hue under UV light
in the presence of increasing sodium levels.
Needless to say, having a biosensor tattoo would make the lives of people who need to regularly check their blood sugar or sodium levels, much simpler, and inform them in real time of changes in their serum biochemistry for appropriate intervention.
"Currently, diabetics need to monitor their glucose levels by piercing the skin, 3 to 10 times per day," researchers state on the Dermal Abyss website. "With Dermal Abyss, we 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."
How Does The Biosensor Tattoo Work?
The biosensor tattoos respond to changes in the interstitial fluid, the fluid occurring outside the cells.
Consequently, when there is a change in the level of say glucose, sodium or the pH of the interstitial fluid, the tattoo too would correspondingly change color enabling real time monitoring.
"The Dermal Abyss creates a direct access to the compartments in the body and reflects inner metabolic processes in a shape of a tattoo," the team writes on the project website.
"It could be used for applications in continuously monitoring such as medical diagnostics, quantified self, and data encoding in the body.
How Soon Will The Biosensor Tattoo Be Ready For Commercial Use?
For those who are curious to check out the novel biosensor tattoo themselves, the study team cautions that it may be a while until this proof of concept product becomes a reality.
"People with diabetes email us and say, 'I want to try it out,'" one of the team, Xin Liu from MIT told CBS News.
Currently, the tattoos have been experimented on pig skin, injecting the substance to be measured, and then observing and tracking color changes. Several rounds of stringent testing need to be carried out
in animals before it can be declared ready for human trials.
The safety of the tattoo with regards to adverse reactions or allergies needs to be established.
More importantly, the team needs to ensure that the reliability and accuracy of the tattoo in monitoring substances is similar to a blood test,
since it can have a bearing on treatment decisions. They feel they have not achieved this as 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.
Other Exciting Tattoos Developed By The MIT Team
This is not the first attempt by the MIT team to create a novel tattoo that can be used as an interface to monitor one's health in real time.
Other state-of-the-art tattoos developed by this team include tattoos that monitor human emotions, a tattoo that one can hear, and a cool tattoo that allows us to change the volume of music.
The MIT Team plans to showcase their creation in September 2017 at the International Symposium of Wearable Computers.