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article imageUse of tattoos to measure blood sugar being researched

By Ken Hanly     Oct 1, 2017 in Health
Cambridge - The Dermal Abyss project is a collaboration between researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers Katia Vega, Xin Liu,. Viirj Kan, and Nick Barry with Ali Yetisen and Nan Jiang from the Harvard Medical School.
Dermal Abyss research involves a novel approach in which the surface of the body is rendered as an interactive display. Instead of using regular tattoo inks biosensors are used whose colour changes in response to variations in the interstitial fluid. The project will blend traditional tatoo artistry with advanced biotechnology. At present there are no plans to develop a product or even pursue clinical trials but just to pursue proof-of-concept. Any commercial use of the technology will no doubt be some time in the future.
The biosensors would not only reflect the glucose level in the blood but its pH level as well. PH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the blood. There is one Ph sensor that changes between purple and pink and a second one that fluouresces at a higher intensity under ultra-violet light. The glucose sensor changes between blue and brown. A recent article from MIT notes: "The Dermal Abyss creates a direct access to the compartments in the body and reflects inner metabolic processes in a shape of a tattoo. It could be used for applications in continuously monitoring such as medical diagnostics, quantified self, and data encoding in the body."
The usual way of measuring glucose levels in diabetics involves piercing the skin several times a day as described in a recent Digital Journal article although less invasive methods are being developed. In future this process could be replaced by a tatoo and glucose levels assessed by the color of the tattoo. The need for insulin would be related to the color of the tatoo. Preliminary evaluation of the process was made ex vivo on a pig skin. Several injections were made in the skin in order to understand the visibility and functionality of the biosensors in the form of simple tattoos. The research work is to be published: "Katia Vega, Nan Jiang, Xin LIU, Viirj Kan, Nicolas Barry, Ali Yetisen, Pattie Maes and Joe Paradiso. "The Dermal Abyss: Interfacing with the Skin by Tattooing Biosensors" In Proceedings of the 2017 ACM International Symposium on Wearable Computers. ACM, 2017. (to appear) "
Further work needs to be done on the biosensors before implementation. The range of colors needs to be extended to provide more exact information. The safety of the biosensors must also be studied. Long term studies need to be made in living skin that will determine the long-term retention of biosensors in the skin. However, even the present research may help pave the way for future developments. The research represents a potential step up from wearable technologies capable of monitoring bood sugar levels without using any batteries or wireless technology.
Nan Jiang one of the lead researchers asks: “Can tattoos embrace technology in order to make the skin interactive? We envision new participation between the biotech companies and skin professionals, such as prosthesis experts and tattooists, in order to embrace the human-device symbiosis.” Jiang also said: “The purpose of the work is to light the imagination of bio-technologists and stimulate public support for such efforts. These questions of how technology impacts our lives must be considered as carefully as the design of molecular sensors patients may someday carry embedded in their skin."
It is possible that the ink could be made invisible under normal conditions for those who do not want tattoos to show. They could be made visible only under UV or other light. The monitoring could be useful not just for diabetics, but for athletes at risk of dehydration, and astronauts on a space mission.
More about Dermal Abyss, Diabetes, blood sugar levels
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