Students from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard have collaborated on a research project called DermalAbyss that aims to use tattoo ink as an interactive display to track a person’s health.
MIT researchers Katia Vega, Xin Liu, Viirj Kan and Nick Barry and Harvard Medical School researchers Ali Yetisen and Nan Jiang combine innovative systems of biotechnology with traditional methods in the tattoo artistry.
Biosensors take the form of basic tattoo inks whose colors change in response to variations in the interstitial fluid in the body.
“This is the first demonstration of a tattoo-based sensor,” said Yetisen, in an interview with CNET. “We wanted to design a system that can overcome [health] challenges with wearable systems.”
The group has created different types of biosensor inks that change color based on the levels of glucose, sodium or pH in your body.
For diabetics, DermalAbyss could replace the tedious act of piercing the skin three to 10 times a day in order to check their glucose levels. With this tattoo, the ink would change from pink to purple based on glucose levels.
Through a sodium-sensing ink, the tattoo can also monitor dehydration by changing colors under UV lighting as salt levels increase or decrease. There is also a pH sensor that fluoresces under UV light, and a second pH sensor that senses changes in alkaline levels by fluctuating between purple and pink.
The group has already done multiple successful experiments on an “ex vivo” pig skin model in order to “understand the visibility and functionality of the biosensors,” according to a statement.
This is not the first time a group has dabbled in the realm of wearable health monitors. John Rogers developed MC10, a flexible electric circuit that sticks directly to the skin like temporary tattoos and monitor the wearer’s health stats. Another fashionable tracker, Duoskin, acts as a control monitor for gadget such as smartphones, while looking like a metallic jewelry-like flash tattoo.
Although there are no current plans to develop DermalAbyss as a product or pursue clinic trials, the MIT and Harvard researchers hope that the project will promote public support and inspire other biotechnologists in this field.