Could A Tattoo Save Your Life One Day?

A team of scientists from Harvard University Medical School and MIT have collaborated to design a special type of tattoo ink that can actually monitor your health.  The ink has the ability to change color in the event of certain biological abnormalities like dehydration or high blood sugar. The new biotech combines the also relatively new biosensitive ink with conventional tattoo artistry in a way that jumps over the limitations that obstructs the abilities of present wearable devices that we are currently using to monitor health.

According to Harvard postdoc fellow Ali Yetisen, “We were thinking: New technologies, what is the next generation after wearables? And so we came up with the idea that we could incorporate biosensors in the skin.”

And thus, the Dermal Abyss was born. This ink simply changes color from green to brown when glucose levels are higher than normal.  When sodium concentration increases—a sure sign of dehydration—the ink’s green hue gets brighter.

Yetisen goes on to say, “We wanted to go beyond what is available through wearables today.”

The team states, obviously, that the Dermal Abyss tattoo has the potential for use for monitoring many different chronic conditions. They also theorize that it could benefit astronauts as their missions require constant health monitoring.  In anticipation of this type of application, the team has also developed software that can analyze a picture of a sensor in order to provide quantitative diagnostic results.

For now, the ink has only been tested on the skin of pigs and the proof-of-concept study needs to move into a refinement phase.  If, for example, they want to us the technology as a medical product, they would need to stabilize these inks so they are more resistant to fading and diffusion.

Harvard Medical School postdoctoral fellow Nan Jiang—who also works with Brigham and Women’s hospital—said: “The purpose of the work is to light the imagination of biotechnologists and stimulate public support for such efforts. These questions of how technology impacts our lives must be considered as carefully as the design of the molecular sensors patients may someday carry embedded in their skin.”