Smart tattoos could fully replace health and fitness wearables in the future

Biosensitive tattoo

Ali Yetisen, a postdoctoral fellow Harvard Medical School said: "We were thinking: New technologies, what is the next generation after wearables?"

The green ink of the tattoo gets darker to let athletes know they're dehydrated, while another green ink turns brown to let diabetics know of a glucose spike. Wearables are now limited by things like battery life (Dominic Lipinski/PA) Work still needs to be done, mainly on stabilising the inks so that they do not diffuse into surrounding tissue or fade, but Harvard's Nan Jiang and Ali Yetisen said the potential applications are wide. The team tested the inks by tattooing them onto the skin of pigs and then noting any change in color or intensity that occurred in response to different biomarkers. The ink has the ability to change color in the event of certain biological abnormalities like dehydration or high blood sugar.

Called Dermal Abyss, this special ink contains colorimetric and fluorescent biosensors that will change color depending on a person's body chemistry, such as levels of pH, glucose, sodium and hydrogen ions in interstitial fluid. "And so we came up with the idea that we could incorporate biosensors in the skin".

The researchers say that the issue with current wearable monitoring devices for medical uses is that they don't integrate well with the body.

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The biosensitive tattoo would need none of these things.

"We wanted to go beyond what is available through wearables today", he said. Similarly, a sodium sensor fluoresces under a UV light, becoming a more intense green as salt intake rises. The project was proved the concept can work, but further development needs to be done to stabilize the ink preventing it from fading or diffusing into the body.

In addition, such inks can be used to make long-lasting tattoos for patients with chronic diseases or tattoos that will be in place for several months of treatment.

Nan Jiang, postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School and 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".

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