What if you could tell how healthy you were simply by looking at a tattoo? This might sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but that’s exactly what the researchers at MIT Media Lab are trying to accomplish.
A team of researchers created DermalAbyss, an experiment that hinges on the idea that tattoos can be much more than a means of self-expression. They can also be used for practical, and potentially life-saving applications such as tracking your glucose, sodium, and pH levels. While the project is currently only a proof of concept, it is the first of its kind to combine artistry and biotechnology.
The research behind DermalAbyss stems from a team of Harvard and MIT researchers who teamed up to develop bio-sensitive inks. These inks were specially designed to change color due to simple chemical reactions within the body. The ink does this by interacting directly with the body’s interstitial fluid, which carries nutrients into cells and moves waste out of them. Since the ink interacts with blood plasma on a cellular level, it’s a fairly decent indicator of chemical concentrations in the blood and an individual’s overall health.
So far, researchers have developed two forms of smart ink, both of which have been successfully tested on in-vitro patches of pigskin. One ink is designed to change from green to brown as glucose concentration increases within the bloodstream. This technology could be a game-changer for diabetic patients, as they wouldn’t have to rely on expensive and painful blood tests. Instead, they could simply glance at their arm.
The second type of ink has a more general use, as it tracks dehydration by turning bright green as sodium concentration increases in the body. In order to clear up the confusion, researchers also created an app that could scan the tattoo and analyze their results.
This idea was brought to life thanks to the efforts of MIT researchers Katia Vega, Xin Liu, Viirj Kan, and Nick Barry as well as Harvard Medical School researchers Ali Yetisen and Nan Jiang. The DermalAbyss was recently presented at the 2017 ACM International Symposium on Wearable Computers, where the team suggested that their ink could overcome the limitations of current biomedical monitoring devices.
While the DermalAbyss is still in early stages of development, researchers are confident that it could one day be used to track a number of different illnesses and health concerns.