As a form of emotional and artistic expression, tattoos have received little attention from scientific fields, until now. While most people use tattoos as a way to physically render something that’s meaningful to them, a new study is showing that tattoos may have an unsuspected function that stretches beyond creative expression and into the world of medicine.
Take that, mom. Tattoos do have a purpose! Researchers at MIT Media Lab and Harvard Medical School have joined up to develop a “biosensing” tattoo ink that could change color based on alterations in one’s biology. The project is called DermalAbyss, and head researcher Katia Vega says that the ink can turn the skin into an “interactive display” from which medical information can monitored in real time. The “biosensing” ink can thus far detect changes in three different bodily functions: glucose levels, sodium levels, and pH balance. Glucose levels are detected as the tattoo ink changes from blue (low blood sugar) to brown (high blood sugar). Sodium levels are detected under a UV light, with a green fluorescent color indicating how much water (or salt) is in the body. Changes in pH balance are indicated by shifts from pink to purple ink. The medical implications of a tattoo that monitors health from the surface level are far-reaching. Most importantly, it could allow doctors access to a patient’s medical diagnostics without having to continuously take blood or utilize otherwise invasive procedures. Other implications spread beyond the doctor’s office and into the everyday lives of patients. Those with diabetes, for example, who give themselves a finger prick multiple times a day in order to test their blood sugar levels, would instead be able to glance down at their tattoo to see whether or not they are in need of insulin. Even those without a medical condition would benefit from the tattoo, as its detection of changes in pH and sodium levels would allow them to monitor their hydration and overall health. Unfortunately, you won’t be seeing these color-changing tattoos on the market just yet, as the researchers maintain that it is only an experiment at this point. There are no plans right now to turn it into a product of any sort, as the experimentation still has quite a long way to go. At the moment, the testing has taken place only on pig skin samples, so the researchers still do not know how a living animal would react to the ink, let alone a human. Although there remains much to be learned about what this technology can do, researcher Xin Liu views the potential implications of the health-monitoring tattoos to be boundless and exciting. “It will take a long time for anything practical to go to market,” she told CBS News, “but it evokes imaginations and opens up possibilities.” Besides all of the medical implications of this technology, let us not forget that it also gives rebellious teenagers an excuse to provide their families with when a fight inevitably ensues over their new ink. Your mom will be so pleased that you’re taking care of your body that she’ll completely forget how heinous that tiger tattoo on your chest is.
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