Researchers developed color-changing tattoos that monitor health

A group of MIT and Harvard Medical School researchers explored the possibility of color-changing, health-monitoring tattoos.

The smart ink can detect blood sugar elevation and dehydration. One of the hurdles of the current wearable monitoring devices is that that they don’t seamlessly integrate with the body and their short battery life means users can’t go wireless. That’s when the group of postdoctoral fellows came up with project DermalAbyss.

“We were thinking: new technologies, what is the next generation after wearables?” Ali Yetisen, a researcher on the team told the Harvard Gazette. “And so we came up with the idea that we could incorporate biosensors in the skin.”

The tattoo ink changes based on each individual’s body chemistry, specifically the interstitial fluid, the fluid between blood vessels and cells. The team’s green ink turns brown when glucose concentration increases, while another green ink, when viewed under blue light, becomes more vibrant as the body’s sodium levels increase. This can help indicate dehydration.

“The purpose of the work is to light the imagination of biotechnologists and stimulate public support for such efforts,” Nan Jiang, one of the researchers, said.

While the project has ended and there are no plans to move forward with DermalAbyss, the idea of tattoo biosensors could be applied to certain groups in the future. Astronauts, athletes and diabetics alike require close health monitoring.

“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,” Jiang told the Harvard Gazette.

If you enjoyed this story, you might want to read about the world’s most tattooed man.

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