Not smartwatches but smart tattoos to monitor health

Francis Osborne
October 4, 2017

The colors change according to whatever the ink is testing: pH testing ink goes from purple to pink, while increased glucose turns green to brown, and green becomes more intense under UV light for sodium. However the problem with current wearables is that they need to be worn 24/7 if you want to monitor your vitals all the time, and given that battery life isn't infinite, it isn't ideal just yet.

Unlike detecting blood oxygen, the smart tattoo ink leverages changes in interstitial fluid of human body to change its colour.

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. And so we came up with the idea that we could incorporate biosensors in the skin". Which would be a shame for diabetics or athletes, who could use the technology to monitor blood sugar and dehydration levels, respectively.

The team tested the ink on segments of pigskin, with the tattoos inked on and chemical solutions mimicking high pH or glucose levels injected into the skin. For example, if the technology is going to be used as a medical product, stabilizing inks that do not fade or diffuse into nearby tissue will need to be developed.

The tattoo was developed by two postdoctoral fellows at Harvard Medical School and colleagues led by Katia Vega at MIT's Media Lab.

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The biosensitive tattoo ink works on a different principle.

The ink can also be invisible and only viewable under certain kinds of light that may be available through a smartphone application.

The researchers developed a pair of inks that signify glucose concentration and sodium concentration. People with chronic conditions could have the inks incorporated into long-lasting tattoos and shorter-term monitoring could be achievable with temporary designs.

Notably, a tattoo displaying your health information could also raise some privacy concerns - an issue the team looks to address by adding invisibility to the smart ink.

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

Other reports by TheDailyFarc

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