If scientists get their way, tattoos could soon be used to track a person’s health condition.
Researchers at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed “smart tattoos” that change color, detecting dehydration and blood sugar levels, New York Daily News reports. This would make this infamous form of body modification a “medical condition monitor.”
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.
The team tested the ink on segments of pigskin, with the tattoos inked on and chemical solutions mimicking high pH or glucose levels injected into the skin. The colors change according to whatever the ink is testing: pH testing ink goes from purple to pink, while increased glucose turns green to brown, and green becomes more intense under UV light for sodium.
These tattoos signify a new way to potentially manage certain diseases. Instead of using the finger-prick test, diabetics would be able to monitor their blood sugar with these tattoos, and sodium levels can be checked for dehydration and proper kidney function.
The scientists presented the advantages of this biotechnology, including the ability to use it without electricity or charging, its weightlessness, and the fact that changes in a person’s skin would not affect how these tattoos work.
In addition, those who are uncomfortable with visible tattoos can opt to make them invisible, seen only when hit with certain color lights that can be produced by a cellphone. The technology also has an accompanying app that analyzes the tattoo.
Potential uses for this device could include items like Apple Watches or FitBit trackers that could monitor the tattoo and collect information on the wearer’s health.
The research was presented at the International Symposium on Wearable Computers in Hawaii.