Having type 1 or 2 diabetes requires a person to always know what their blood sugar levels are. This normally takes time and can be quite invasive – normally people prick their finger with a special device and place a small drop of blood on a testing strip. Others have a device implanted just under their skin that continuously measures their blood sugar levels and sends the information to an external device.
A team of researchers at Harvard and MIT have now come up with a rather curious alternative. Using a specialized ink, they have come up with a biosensing tattoo, one that will change color depending on your blood sugar levels.
Known as DermalAbyss ink – currently still in the proof-of-concept stage and not available to the general public – it is able to track pH levels, as well as sodium and glucose concentrations within your bloodstream. Too much glucose and the ink becomes brown. Too much sodium and it becomes green (under UV light, at least). Purples and pinks indicate a changing pH level.
“The DermalAbyss ink presents a novel approach to biointerfaces in which the body’s surface is rendered as an interactive display,” the team explain in a promotional video.
The dynamic ink isn’t directly hooked up to your bloodstream, to be fair; it’s actually monitoring your interstitial fluid, a substance that surrounds the tissue cells of animals. Water, ions and small solutes – including salts, sugars, fatty and amino acids and hormones – are constantly making their way through this fluid across the walls of your capillaries.
At present, it’s only been tested on pig skin, which is very similar to our own. However, it definitely works – but human trials are still required to see if it’s workable with patients. Are there any allergic reactions that people may have to the ink? Will the technology break down over time?
Still, it’s safe to say that this is a rather novel and elegant solution to a problem that hasn’t really been addressed for some time. Only time will tell if it catches on. It’s still invasive, of course – but only at first, whereupon it then just becomes a part of your biology.
The researchers point out that the tattoo can take any shape or form you like, so each persons will be unique to them – much like conventional tattoos.
“We envision new participation between the biotech companies and skin professionals…in order to embrace the idea of human device symbiosis,” they conclude.