'Biosensitive' Ink Can Create Tattoos Which Monitor Your Health

Saturday, 30 September 2017 - 12:40PM
Technology
Medical Tech
Saturday, 30 September 2017 - 12:40PM
'Biosensitive' Ink Can Create Tattoos Which Monitor Your Health
YouTube/Harvard University
Modern tattoos are typically seen as artwork that exists on your body, with little functional purpose beyond self-expression. Obviously, that's not a bad thing, but tattoos might be entering the world of wearable tech in the near future, as health monitoring tools.

Researchers from Harvard and MIT have recently developed a "smart" tattoo ink, containing biosensors which monitor your health and change color if you're growing dehydrated, if your blood sugar is dropping, etc. Given the metal-sounding name of "Dermal Abyss," the researchers behind it hope that their interactive, color changing tattoos could be the future of fitness trackers and other gadgets that monitor your health.

Speaking to Harvard's news website, researcher Ali Yetisen said the idea stemmed from the question of what might follow the current trend of wearable tech (like Fitbits or Apple Watches). They decided that skin-implanted tech could easily follow the current technology, which can only do so much when it's worn like a watch instead of physically grafted onto you. So they attempted to "incorporate biosensors in the skin," as Yetisen explains.

You can see a full demonstration of the color changing tattoos below:



Most of the ink's colors respond to changes in your body fluids, with a pH sensor that changes between pink and purple, and a glucose sensor that can shift from blue to brown. Beyond this, there's also a sodium sensor which becomes fluorescent under ultraviolet light.

It's not ready for widespread use yet, and the Dermal Abyss in its current state is just a proof of concept. But once a medical-ready version of the ink exists, it could result in a bizarre but not unwelcome collaboration between medical tech companies and tattoo artists, who don't have much of a working relationship between them just yet. 

Nan Jiang, M.D., a co-author on the study, reflected on other possible uses while speaking to Inverse:

Opening quote
"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."
Closing quote


Of course, some people might have reservations about this for a number of hypothetical reasons - maybe they don't want something permanent on their bodies to monitor a temporary condition, or maybe they simply never decided on what tattoo design they'd want. Yetisen went on to say that creating these same tattoos using invisible ink is possible, so you could monitor them only under certain lighting.

It's not completely clear whether interactive tattoos are truly the the future of "wearable tech," if you could even call this that anymore. Sensors and fitness trackers are also being woven into fabric, and it seems likely that the public would gravitate toward biosensitive clothes, before they go full cyberpunk and start implanting sensors into their skin.

But on the other hand, a flaming skull on your arm that can change color when you're dehydrated sounds, honestly, completely awesome.
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