The new biotech combines the also relatively new biosensitive ink with conventional tattoo artistry in a way that jumps over the limitations that obstructs the abilities of present wearable devices that we are now using to monitor health. Inks include ones that change from green to brown in response to an increasing blood sugar level and a green ink that becomes more intense as sodium levels increase, which is an indicator of dehydration.
Harvard Medical School postdoctoral fellow Nan Jiang-who also works with Brigham and Women's hospital-said: "The objective of the work is to light the imagination of biotechnologists and stimulate public support for such efforts". However the problem with current wearables is that they need to be worn 24/7 if you want to monitor your vitals all the time, and given that battery life isn't infinite, it isn't ideal just yet. Researchers tattooed the inks onto segments of pig skin and noted how they changed color or intensity in response to different biomarkers.
The ink could also be developed to only be visible under specific kinds of light, such as from a smartphone, to address possible privacy concerns.
Current monitoring devices-a smartwatch or fitness tracker, for instance-don't seamlessly integrate with the body (at least, not like inserting dyes into the dermis layer of the skin does).
"We wanted to go beyond what is available through wearables today", Yetisen continued. But there are other challenges presented with this method - like ensuring the ink won't fade over time or diffuse into surrounding tissue. In anticipation of this type of application, the team has also developed software that can analyze a picture of a sensor in order to provide quantitative diagnostic results.
According to Ali Yetisen, one of the researchers involved, one potential use for these sensors could be for astronauts who will need constant health monitoring.
Jiang said the project's goal was to excite artists and scientists alike about the potential for such technology, and to stimulate discussion of ethical issues it might raise, such as people's willingness to have health information displayed for all to see.
"The objective of the work is to light the imagination of biotechnologists and stimulate public support for such efforts", says Jiang.
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