Body art may soon serve a function far beyond any personal statement or aesthetic appeal. Research into smart tattoos could revolutionize basic medical diagnostics, with the possibility of replacing some blood tests with patches of chemical-reactive ink.
“Smart tattoos,” made with high-tech, chemical-reactive ink, could someday replace some common diagnostics. Research has been underway for combining nanotechnology with biosensors specific to blood sugar, skin pH, liver enzymes and sun exposure — all in the form of an injectable ink. Not into permanent tattoos? Researchers have also been looking into applying this technology to temporary ideas, too.
Check out the incredible technology that could help tattoos replace finger pricks and phlebotomy trips. Here's the latest on this clever and creative innovation.
Why a Tattoo?
Technology has come a long way, but we still rely on some uncomfortably invasive and time-consuming techniques for our common diagnostics. For example, most people with diabetes must test their blood sugar numerous times each day. This usually requires blood from a separate finger prick each time.
Even the latest device, Dexcom’s G5 Mobile Continuous Glucose Monitoring System, meant to “replace” finger-pricking, still requires users to prick their fingers for twice-daily "calibrations."
Smart tattoos, as the new technology is being called, could eliminate finger-pricking altogether while providing constant monitoring of blood sugar levels. And constant blood sugar monitoring may make it possible for diabetes sufferers to control their levels more effectively. Researchers are looking for ways to apply this technology to numerous types of specific biomarkers in the body, potentially replacing blood tests for a variety of conditions.
How It Will Work
Smart tattoos currently under research include high-tech dyes that react to blood sugar, skin pH, and liver function enzymes. The addition of smartphone technology may allow some diagnostics and data-sharing to occur in real-time.
Another area of study has led to “solar freckles,” tattoos that only appear when they’re exposed to sunlight. These could be a lifesaver for people who are sensitive to the sun or have a hard time gauging whether their sunscreen is still doing its job. Many of these dyes still need to be tested for safety, but the current research looks promising.
Hoping for something even less invasive? Tons of research is also being conducted on what amounts to temporary smart tattoos. Researchers have been working with gold leaf, silicone, electrodes and other wearable materials to create skin sensors that are as functional as they are aesthetically pleasing. Specific research has been underway on glucose monitoring, assessing exercise performance and even monitoring alcohol consumption.
Tattoos probably aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so why not have one that’s functional? Fewer blood tests means less time at the doctor’s office and less money spent. How far would you go to reduce your future need for blood tests or blood monitoring?
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