Color-changing tattoos monitor blood glucose at a glance

Woman with tattoos holding a mug

Nan Jiang, co-researcher and postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School study, said: "The objective of the work is to light the imagination of biotechnologists and stimulate public support for such efforts".

The first type, designed for blood sugar monitoring, can change its color from green to brown, while another ink typically acquires bright green color when sodium concentration increases.

The DermalAbyss project is the result of a collaboration between MIT researchers Katia Vega, Xin Liu, Viirj Kan and Nick Barry and Harvard Medical School researchers Ali Yetisen and Nan Jiang. Instead of using the finger-prick test, diabetics would be able to monitor their blood sugar with these tattoos, and sodium levels can be checked for dehydration and proper kidney function.

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It will be some time before we see smart tattoos become a reality, but the idea alone is certainly intriguing, as they could provide far more accurate data than the current crop of health and fitness trackers.

Color-based biosensitive tattoo ink, on the other hand...

The inks change color depending on the chemistry of the sodium, glucose, pH and hydrogen ions present in the interstitial fluid and are weightless and can be used without electricity or charging.

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"We wanted to go beyond what is available through wearables today", Yetisen added. 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.

The researchers are also in development to make the ink totally invisible for naked eyes and enable the monitoring only through particular kinds of light that could be generated from a smartphone. Those issues need to be sorted before the tattoo ink could be used for medical needs.

But the researchers did note that the ink could potentially be useful in a wide variety of applications - from monitoring chronic conditions, to creating temporary designs for shorter-duration monitoring.

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

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