Color-changing tattoos monitor blood glucose at a glance

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A group of Harvard and MIT researchers has developed biosensitive tattoos which change colour and could help with continuous monitoring of health conditions such as dehydration or increase in blood sugar levels, according to a new study. A green ink becoming increasingly more intense if you're dehydrated, while another green ink can turn brown to let people with diabetes know when their glucose levels increase. "And so we came up with the idea that we could incorporate biosensors in the skin", said Ali Yetisen, a Tosteson postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and Massachusetts General Hospital.

The tattoo was developed by two postdoctoral fellows at Harvard Medical School and colleagues led by Katia Vega at MIT's Media Lab. Researchers tattooed the inks onto segments of pig skin and noted how they changed colour in response to different biomarkers. Which would be a shame for diabetics or athletes, who could use the technology to monitor blood sugar and dehydration levels, respectively.

The project called "Dermal Abyss" involves developing a "smart" tattoo ink that would monitor your insides, as you can see from the video embedded at the bottom of this post.

Those smart tattoos have the potential to replace wearable electronic biosensors and, once applied, would be less invasive than other monitors without the need to change out or charge batteries.

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

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.

The team is still working the concept and needs to stabilize the ink so designs don't fade or diffuse into surrounding tissues. The tattoos could be long lasting for chronic conditions or temporary designs for short-duration monitoring. The applications for the sort of tattoo ink is broad, once the kinks are worked out.

Nan Jiang, postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's hospital, said: "The goal of the work is to light the imagination of biotechnologists and stimulate public support for such efforts".

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