Tattoos Show Potential As Health Tracking Technology

04 October, 2017, 00:28 | Author: Garry Little
  • Harvard, MIT boffins ink up with health-monitoring 'smart' tats

The researchers paired biosensitive inks with traditional tattoo artistry as a way to overcome some of the limitations of biomedical monitoring devices that now do not seamlessly integrate with the body.

The smart tattoos, developed under a project titled Dermal Abyss, look pretty much normal but use Harvard's special, biosensitive ink, which contains colourmetric and fluorescent biosensors that detect concentrated amounts of sodium, glucose, and hydrogen ions in the interstitial fluid (a solution surrounding the tissue cells) of the skin.

Nan Jiang, co-researcher and postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School study, said: "The goal of the work is to light the imagination of biotechnologists and stimulate public support for such efforts". Several injections in the skin were done in order to understand the visibility and functionality of the biosensors. Which would be a shame for diabetics or athletes, who could use the technology to monitor blood sugar and dehydration levels, respectively. Wearables are now limited by things like battery life (Dominic Lipinski/PA) Work still needs to be done, mainly on stabilising the inks so that they do not diffuse into surrounding tissue or fade, but Harvard's Nan Jiang and Ali Yetisen said the potential applications are wide.

It is mainly paired with biosensitive inks which are developed at Harvard with traditional tattoo artistry to surpass the requirement of any external power and wireless connection - the two major factors that are limiting the wearables available nowadays. Similarly, a sodium sensor fluoresces under a UV light, becoming a more intense green as salt intake rises. Those issues need to be sorted before the tattoo ink could be used for medical needs.

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The tattoos, made with the help of such inks, can be invisible and can only be readable under particular kinds of light.

The researchers said a long-lasting tattoo could be used to monitor chronic conditions or a temporary design could be used for shorter-duration monitoring.

"The objective of the work is to light the imagination of biotechnologists and stimulate public support for such efforts", says Jiang.

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