Tattoo ink that changes color could be used to monitor health

Woman with tattoos holding a mug

"We were thinking: New technologies, what is the next generation after wearables?"Ali Yetisen, a Tosteson postdoctoral fellow at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital, added".

We investigated four biosensors, reacting to three pieces of biochemical information in body fluid and changes colors: The pH sensor changes between purple and pink, the glucose sensor shifts between blue and brown; the sodium and a second pH sensor fluoresce at a higher intensity under UV light.

"The goal of the work is to light the imagination of biotechnologists and stimulate public support for such efforts", said Nan Jiang, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. The ink could change colors if the person is dehydrated or if the blood sugar rises.

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 team said that current wearables don't seamlessly integrate with the body and face other issues such as short battery life and the need for wireless connectivity.

The team of eight researchers found that by mixing optical biosensors with tattoo ink, they are able to create tattoos (dubbed "dermal abyss" or "d-abyss") that react with the body's own fluids and change color when levels of substances such as sodium and glucose change.


The biosensitive tattoo would need none of these things.

The ink could also be developed to only be visible under specific kinds of light, such as from a smartphone, to address possible privacy concerns.

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

If you're looking to get some ink, a new type of tattoo could help you gauge your health.

In addition, such inks can be used to make long-lasting tattoos for patients with chronic diseases or tattoos that will be in place for several months of treatment. Another researcher Nan Jiang adds, "The objective of the work is to light the imagination of biotechnologists and stimulate public support for such efforts".

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