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Tattoos as Health Sensors

Tattoos are personal and often meaningful, but a new concept might make them infinitely useful to a lot of people. If you were a diabetic, wouldn't you rather get a tattoo once than to prick your finger to test your blood several times a day? Scientists have developed sensors that change color due to body chemistry that can be placed under the skin, but near enough to the surface for the color change to be visible. These can be incorporated into tattoos, and anyone who sees them will consider them art instead of a medical device.   

Using tattoos for diagnostic rather than cosmetic purposes is a new concept. Researcher Ali K. Yetisen, who works at the Technical University of Munich, Germany, and his colleagues thought the technique could be helpful to place sensor formulations at spots in the body where they can record changes in metabolic substances directly, without any spatial distance or time delay, and perhaps for a very long period of time.

The researchers then identified and adapted three colorimetric chemical sensors that produce a color change in response to biomarkers. The first sensor was a rather simple pH indicator consisting of the dyes methyl red, bromothymol blue, and phenolphthalein. If injected into a model skin patch—a piece of pig skin—the resulting tattoo turned from yellow to blue if the pH was adjusted from five to nine.

The other two sensors probed the levels of glucose and albumin.

The scientists in Germany who published the paper linked above are not the only ones looking into the possibility. Read about the company Dermal Abyss which is also working on tattoos sensors at Bored Panda. 

(Image credit: Angewandte Chemie/Wiley-VCH)


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