Could a tattoo tell the wearer when something is amiss with his or her health? A research team from MIT and the Harvard Medical School set up a proof-of-concept project to explore this idea.
Their project, DermalAbyss, examined four biosensors—pH, glucose, sodium, and an additional pH sensor-- that change colors in response to detecting three pieces of information carried in body fluids. They tested the tattoo on pigskin, demonstrating that the biosensor material does change color as expected.
The research team singled out diabetics as a large potential user group for a biosensor tattoo. Rather than pricking their skin for a drop of blood to test, a glance at a tattoo would provide the same information without the pain. If the tattoo changes color from blue to brown, the person’s blood sugar is elevated.
The MIT/Harvard researchers laid out questions for future researchers to address, including extending the range of biosensor colors and intensitie, evaluating biosensor safety and toxicity, and determining the lifespan of the tattoo “ink.”
Although there are no plans to turn DermalAbyss into a commercial product, the researchers hope that the preliminary research will inspire other scientists to push the work further.
The DermalAbyss work follows in the path of the MIT researchers who in 2016 introduced DuoSkin, a gold-leaf tattoo that reacts to touch, displays output, and communicates wirelessly. The fashionable skin decorations won the “Sci-Fi No Longer” award from South by Southwest in 2017.