Scientists at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA have been developing a series of smart tattoos that can indicate levels of dehydration and sugar levels through minimally invasive implantation. Dermal Abyss located in Cambridge tattoo inks change color according to the chemistry of the body’s interstitial fluid, which can be used as a surrogate for constituents of the blood. One ink changes from green to brown as glucose concentration increases. The team has also developed a green ink, viewable under blue light, that grows more intense as sodium concentration rises, an indication of dehydration. Researchers tattooed the inks onto segments of pig skin and noted how they changed color or intensity in response to different biomarkers.
Recently, however, Swiss scientists have developed an experimental skin implant that triggers the appearance of a dark mole when there is a change to the body’s interstitial fluid. Detecting the subtle body changes, such as hypercalcemia, work to serve as an early warning of cancer.
The implant, or “biomedical tattoo,” as researchers call it, has been tested on lab animals, lasts for about a year and recognizes the four most common types of cancer: prostate, lung, colon and breast cancer. It works by reacting to the level of calcium in the blood, which rises when a tumor is developing. About 40 per cent of cancers could theoretically be detected this way, researchers say.
“The biomedical tattoo detects all hypercalcemic cancers at a very early, asymptomatic stage,” says lead author Martin Fussenegger, professor at the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering at ETH Zurich.
They help to monitor health using biosensitive ink that changes color following the modifying composition of the body’s interstitial fluid.
The researchers say that the biomedical tattoo could one day potentially be used to not only detect certain diseases and medical issues but could also be used to “noninvasively monitor response to treatment.” The researchers have developed a self-powering chip which sits under the surface of the skin. The chip contains a number of sensors which can monitor alcohol intake and blood levels in the host body, which could be useful in rehabilitation environments.
Earlier this month, engineers from the University of California San Diego revealed another skin-based research project which could impact our health. This time, by monitoring drug and alcohol intake.