Colour changing tattoo, a hope for diabetes


Scientists from Harvard and MIT created a tattoo ink that changes colour as a response to changes in a person’s health condition. The so-called smart tattoo can sense changes in the blood sugar level, pH level, and sodium. It turns from blue to brown when glucose in the blood increases. It takes another colour, green when the level of sodium increases in the body and purple with changes of the pH level.

The research may be the solution for many diabetes who use body monitoring devices. The smart ink relies on electricity and can indicate critical changes of glucose, sodium, and pH without the person having to draw bodily fluid to verify.

The research is still at the “proof of concept” stage, but Nan Jiang, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard and Brigham and women’s hospital said, “ the initial stage was to prove the concept further refinement of stabilization to prevent designs from fading or diffuse into tissue are necessary to obtain a medical product”.

Dermal Abyss ink as it is called, so far has only been tested on pigs skin. Xin Liu, an MIT medical lab researcher, told CBS News “the technology is still in its infancy. Lots of unknowns still exist. There are concerns about allergies, durability, and accuracy. On a practical note, it’s going to be some time before it goes on the market shelves” The thought of having a tattoo that changes colours and reflects the chemistry of your body is, however, very appealing to many.

Both Ali Yetisen, a postdoctoral fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Nan Jiang, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital believe that there is a very wide application for project Dermal Abyss once everything has been worked out. According to Yetisen, patients with chronic diabetes conditions can have the biologically-sensitive ink incorporated in permanent or temporary tattoo designs. The ink can also be invisible and only observable under UV light.

HMS postdoctoral fellows Ali Yetisen (left) and Nan Jiang postdoctoral Harvard Medical School

Beside finding potential usefulness for diabetes, Dermal Abyss ink can also be used as an indication of dehydration by sensing the sodium level in the body. Athletes, manual labourers and people who undertake intensive physical activities are likely to benefit.

Dermal Abyss ink reacts with the interstitial fluid inside the body. The fluids main function in the body is to carry nutrients to cells and take waste from cells to dispose of. It can be found in the spaces between the cells, hence its name, interstitial. It’s a very good indicator of the chemical composition of the blood because it works quite closely with blood plasma. The research was revealed at the 2017 ACM International Symposium on Wearable Computers

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