The Tattoo Ink that Thinks

in Science & Tech by

Tattoo ink

Harvard and MIT researchers have unveiled a revolutionary new type of smart tattoo ink which uses changes in color to indicate variations in blood sugar levels and hydration levels.

The groundbreaking project, “Dermal Abyss”, was spearheaded by MIT’s Media Lab alongside two postdoctoral fellows at Harvard Medical School. The potential of this breakthrough is exciting to both scientists and artists alike.

“We were thinking: New technologies, what is the next generation after wearables? And so we came up with the idea that we could incorporate biosensors in the skin. We wanted to go beyond what is available through wearables today,” Ali Yetisen told the Harvard Gazette. Yetison holds a Ph.D. degree in Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology from the University of Cambridge.

The smart tattoo ink reacts with a person’s interstitial fluid which can be used to monitor the contents of the blood.

Inks change from green to brown in relation to glucose (blood sugar) levels, making this type of tattoo a boon to diabetics.

Another ink shows color change under a blue light relative to the sodium concentration present which allows easy assessment of dehydration. The green ink grows more intense as hydration levels drop. Knowing how much water they should be taking will be especially beneficial to individuals active in sports or exercise.

By using biosensitive tattoo ink the researchers were able to overcome typical issues of current wearable monitoring devices:

  • They aren’t seamless and operate outside the body.
  • They often require wireless connectivity
  • Short battery life leading to constant worry and the hassles of constant recharging

This proof of concept smart ink isn’t quite ready for your local tattoo parlor. For one thing, ink still needs to be stabilized so designs stay sharp and keep their form.

However, inks like this may eventually be as ubiquitous as a smartphone.


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