For many, tattoos are a form of self-expression. For others, a tattoo may be an impulsive mistake—and an expensive one, considering they can cost up to several hundred dollars to have done and even more to have removed. But if you suffer from one of several diseases or conditions, a new ink may be a lot more important than an art form. And instead of an impulsive mistake, it could be the thing that saves your life.
Researchers at Harvard and MIT have now developed a new magnetic ink, known as Dermal Abyss, that can be used to create a “smart tattoo” that detects specific levels within your body. Currently, the ink detects dehydration and blood sugar levels by monitoring pH, glucose, sodium, and hydrogen ions within the body’s interstitial fluid. The ink then changes color based on which level it’s meant to detect.
For example, if you’re a diabetic, rather than prick your finger multiple times a day to check your blood sugar level, you could instead just glance at your tattoo and observe the color to see if anything needs your attention.
And if you’re worried you can’t pull off the tattoo look, don’t worry—an invisible ink option is also available, one that becomes visible only under certain lights.
“We wanted to go beyond what is available through wearables today,” explains Ali Yetisen, one of the lead researchers, referring to known issues with wearable medical devices such as short battery life and the inability to pair seamlessly with the body.
Yetisen also hopes to take their discovery beyond our planet—printing the ink on astronauts to make health monitoring more reliable.
Of course, there are a few bugs that need to be worked out before you can line up for that new, health-conscious tat, such as:
- The possibility of colors being difficult to read or interpret.
- Ink must stand up to the heavy punishment we often give our skin.
- False positives / negatives.
- How the size of the tattoo impacts the accuracy of the reading.
- Privacy issues—maybe you don’t want every person on the beach knowing your glucose levels.
“The purpose of the work is to light the imagination of biotechnologists and stimulate public support for such efforts,” says researcher Nan Jiang. “These questions of how technology impacts our lives must be considered as carefully as the design of the molecular sensors patients may someday carry embedded in their skin.”
The work is promising, and it’s future should be promising to both doctors and artists alike. With any luck, that next tattoo might not be a reminder of that crazy three day weekend in Mexico… it might just be the reminder that saves your life.
For more information on beginning your career in health care, contact Unitek College today for information on our many nursing and medical assistant programs.