Color-Changing Tattoos Can Monitor Health Without A Wearable

Color-Changing Tattoos Can Monitor Health Without A Wearable
Design

DermalAbyss is exploring the possibility of using special inks to monitor medical conditions

Leo Lutero
  • 9 june 2017

There are many liquid compounds that change colors when subjected to different conditions. DermalAbyss—a rather daunting name for a potentially health-preserving technology—makes use of these compounds to provide visual cues to relay changes in the body.

Once applied using tattoo needles, the inks are exposed to the interstitial fluid. This compound exists in between cells and they undergo composition changes depending on many other factors. As a result, the embedded ink is expected to undergo visible changes.

A guide to the four biosensor inks. Credit: Xin LIU, Katia Vega (CC)

The MIT Media Lab team behind DermalAbyss has developed four inks thus far for the project. The pH sensor switches between purple and pink (like litmus paper), the glucose sensor turns from blue to brown, while sodium and a secondary pH sensor react to UV light.

These color-changing biosensors may indicate sudden changes in the body. The biggest potential of this technology would be for conditions that require constant monitoring. For diabetics, this could be glucose, or blood sugar, levels. Instead of traditional tests that require pricking the skin several times a day, a DermalAbyss tattoo would provide continuous monitoring.

The project is in its early stages, and tests of the ink have only been done so far on pig skin. As is typical with developing medical technology, it will be years, or even decades, before the technology is made available to patients.

One major problem this kind of technology will face is its sensitivity. Often, changes in the interstitial fluid are minute and might not be enough to trigger a visible reaction. In addition, chemical reactions often have a finite number of back-and-forths before they stop changing colors. How a tattoo can maintain its function throughout months and years will be a considerable roadblock for this project.

This is not the first time MIT Media Lab has looked at how tattoos can add functionality to the skin. Their previous project used special conductive materials to turn skin into a capable mousepad.

DermalAbyss


Lead Image: Xin LIU, Katie Vega | CC | Image cropped

There are many liquid compounds that change colors when subjected to different conditions. DermalAbyss—a rather daunting name for a potentially health-preserving technology—makes use of these compounds to provide visual cues to relay changes in the body.

+Design
+Health
+health monitoring
+ink
+MIT Media Lab
+tattoos
+technology
+wearables
+wellness

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