Wearable trackers represent a booming sector, from fitness apps that measure the activity levels, water intake or sleep tracking, we have become obsessed with visualising and monitoring our health. However there is one major disadvantage to wearable trackers, when the battery dies or a glitch occurs in the software the measurement stops or you can even loose your data. To address this issue, researchers at MIT and Harvard Medical School have developed the DermalAbyss, a tattoo ink infused with biosensors that changes colour to indicate your body’s varying glucose and pH levels, making the skin interactive and potentially life saving.
Author: Siphilele Magagula
Image: Courtesy of MIT
The skin has three main functions - regulation, sensation and protection. Before the invention of medical examination machines the skin was scrutinised to detect illness. Through face mapping, an ancient Ayurvedic practice, medical practitioners relied on the position of blemishes on the face to diagnose health problems. Fast forward to the year 2016, MIT researchers Katia Vega, Xin Liu, Viirj Kan and Nick Barry and Harvard Medical School researchers Ali Yetisen and Nan Jiang have collaborated to create a smart tattoo that allows users to monitor their health.
Image courtesy of The Mind Core
DermalAbyss; A Health Tracker That Combines Biotechnology With Art
DermalAbyss aims to transform the skin into an “interactive display” with a new approach to bio-interfaces that combines biotechnology with art. Researchers have found a way to replace tattoo ink with biosensors that change colour according to the variations in the bloodstream. "We developed four biosensors, reacting to three pieces of biochemical information in body fluid and changing colours," the group explained. Each biosensor has a distinct colour: the pH sensor changes between pink and purple, the glucose sensor from blue to brown, while the sodium and an additional pH sensor are said to fluoresce at a higher intensity under UV light.
This way, diabetics could be able to detect their glucose levels without using daily pin prick tests and hypertension patients could monitor their sodium levels with ease. With DermalAbyss, we could literally wear our health on our sleeve.
Though very promising, the project is currently in the testing phase, the researchers have only injected the interactive ink into pig skin so far, but believe it will be implemented into medical practice in the near future.
Images courtesy of MIT
The MIT is already looking into ways to apply this biotechnology to different industries, highlighting a need for multidisciplinary engagement "In the same way that the wearables industry is integrating fashion practices into its development, we envisage participation between the biotech industries and skincare professionals, such as prosthesis experts and tattooists, in order to embrace the idea of human device symbiosis," they said.