Researchers develop smart tattoos that use color changing ink for medical info

Faith Castro
October 4, 2017

Researchers at Harvard and MIT have designed a type of tattoo ink that changes colors to indicate the health condition.

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". Ali Yetisen, a Tosteson postdoctoral fellow at HMS and Massachusetts General Hospital, said in a statement. "And so we came up with the idea that we could incorporate biosensors in the skin".

The stabilizing ink does not fade or diffuse into surrounding tissue and only changes color according to the chemistry of the body's interstitial fluid-which can be used as a surrogate for constituents of the blood.

Monitoring a person's health can now be perform by a wide array of wearable devices, but more often than not they need to be recharged and connected to a wireless network for data transmission, he said.

For now, the ink has only been tested on the skin of pigs and the proof-of-concept study needs to move into a refinement phase.

The biosensitive tattoo would need none of these things. "We wanted to go beyond what is available through wearables today".

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The researchers developed a pair of inks that signify glucose concentration and sodium concentration.

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.

Speaking to Inverse, study co-author Nan Jiang said: "This work could be expanded to monitor athletes and their health levels, people who have chronic conditions that need to be monitored like diabetes, and it could even be used on astronauts to monitor their health in space".

The scientists presented the advantages of this biotechnology, including the ability to use it without electricity or charging, its weightlessness, and the fact that changes in a person's skin would not affect how these tattoos work.

"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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