Using Skin as Display: Tattoo Which Shows Blood Sugar Level

Those suffering from diabetes have to prick their fingers several times a day, which is painful and inconvenient. Now it has been revealed that a team of researchers from MIT and Harvard is working on an innovative tattoo which can indicate blood sugar level and some other parameters.

Image credit: Xin LIU, Katia Vega / Creative Commons

Blood money

Regardless of whether your diabetes is type 1 or type 2, you have to monitor your blood sugar level to know when you need more insulin. The painful procedure implies pricking your finger using a special kind of consumables for a glucose monitoring device. You need only one drop of your blood to be put on a testing strip, but it takes time and money to get it out of your finger. The consumables can also be quite expensive, so this approach has quite a few downsides.

Another option available is to install a special device which is implanted in the wearer’s body to monitor glucose level. It gathers the data it needs, processes it and sends a signal to another device indicating that everything’s fine (or that more insulin is needed). This approach looks more convenient, but it’s still invasive.

It has become known that a team of researchers from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is working on a project called DermalAbyss. The mysterious name is used to denote a technology of using special inks which are capable of analyzing the content of fluid between cells and changing its color accordingly.

Convenient and neat

Just imagine – you can monitor three blood parameters using a picture on your forearm or other body part! It does not need any batteries, changes colors without any devices implanted, and looks interesting. Sounds like a technology from the future? Well, it’s still in development, and clinical trials have not been initiated yet, but the technology is reported to work properly—at least on pig skin, which is very much like human skin.

Remember a TV series from the 80s where the main character had such a tattoo on his hand that indicated how much power he had left? Now those suffering from diabetes can have an opportunity to try a similar technology. However, it has not been tested on human skin yet, so it’s currently unavailable for the wide audience.

Medical artwork

The bio-interface renders human skin a display, in which biosensors in the form of inks are used to indicate the levels of glucose and sodium in your bloodstream, as well as its pH. There are three colors used.

If the level of glucose in your blood increases, the ink of your tattoo gets brown.

The sodium level is indicated by another type of inks: should the level increase, the ink will get green.

The last type of biosensor inks is for pH: there are several shades of pink/purple that are used to monitor what’s going on in your blood.

The tattoo can be of any shape, so it’s going to be one more opportunity for tattoo designers to come up with new ideas.

A lot of work to do

It’s worthy of note that the inks do not assess the content of your blood: they have no access to it. Rather that interacting with vessels, they check the parameters in question in the interstitial fluid, which is found between tissue cells. There are a lot of components in it, including amino acids, ions, fats, etc., which are moving across the walls of capillaries, so if new biosensor inks are invented, people will get an opportunity to monitor even more parameters.

There is still much to find out. Will the inks work fine if used on human skin? Can the inks trigger any allergies? How long are the inks going to last once used? All these questions require answers, and once they are found, the team will be able to consider initiating clinical trials.

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