Mind & Body

DermalAbyss Color-Changing Tattoos Look Cool and Monitor Health At The Same Time

Once associated with society's outsiders, tattoos are now more commonplace than ever: nearly 40 percent of Americans sported body art in 2005, double the number from 1991. That trend is likely to continue if MIT and Harvard researchers have anything to do with it: they developed a biosensor ink they call DermalAbyss. It can monitor chronic health conditions such as diabetes, and could further revolutionize how the world views tattoos.

Do I Need Insulin? Let Me Check My Tattoo

Created out of a collaboration among students at MIT and Harvard Medical School, DermalAbyss relies on a special biosensor ink that changes color based on changes in interstitial fluid, creating an interactive display on the human body. It includes four biosensors that measure different three types of biochemical information: a glucose sensor, a sodium sensor, and two pH sensors. The glucose-sensing ink changes from blue to brown as blood-sugar levels change, whereas the sodium sensor shifts from a light to an intense green with fluctuations in salt levels. One pH sensor goes from pink to purple, while another glows under UV light. (Eat your heart out, glow-in-the-dark tattoos.)

Body Art For A Purpose

While at first glance, the DermalAbyss project may seem like a stunt, the ink offers a solution to real-world issues. For example, diabetics have to prick their skin multiple times per day in order to monitor their blood glucose levels. Beyond a one-time application, biosensor ink tattoos could provide their wearers with a lifetime of pain-free monitoring. The technology also has the potential to be used in other applications such as diagnostics and data encoding.

DermalAbyss comes along in a time where societal attitudes regarding tattoos is radically different than it was just a generation ago. That means that more people who could benefit from biosensor tattoos would be willing to be inked up without fear of judgement from family, friends, or employers. So, while DermalAbyss is currently a research project, and the team has no plans to move it into clinical trials, its success points to a time in the not-so-distant future where body art, medicine, and technology are merged like never before.

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Written by Jamie Ludwig June 20, 2017

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