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Harvard, MIT boffins ink up with health-monitoring 'smart' tats

Cutting-edge tattoo checks your blood sugar, still disappoints your mother

Researchers at Harvard and MIT have developed a subdermal ink capable of monitoring vitals such as hydration and blood sugar.

The team of eight researchers found that by mixing optical biosensors with tattoo ink, they are able to create tattoos (dubbed "dermal abyss" or "d-abyss") that react with the body's own fluids and change color when levels of substances such as sodium and glucose change.

"By featuring tissue cells with interactive properties, the skin can change its color, light intensity, or structure to display information. Hence, the skin cells become a pixel screen to be decoded by the user, other viewers, or cameras," the researchers say.

"Integration of optical technologies with skin may allow camouflage or highlight such information dynamically."

The result, the team says, is a method of monitoring health levels by looking at the color of the tattoo. They believe the designs could be a less-invasive way to monitor things like hydration in athletes (by checking sodium levels) or blood glucose in diabetics.

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"This incentivizes users to maintain care for their health and by extension, maintain desirable aesthetics of the tattoo," the researchers say.

"Chromogenic glucose and pH d-abyss can enable users to scribe symbolic and aesthetic designs on the skin while providing a quick glance to the user about their health."

Those smart tattoos have the potential to replace wearable electronic biosensors and, once applied, would be less invasive than other monitors without the need to change out or charge batteries.

"In the same way that the wearables industry is integrating fashion practices in their development," the researchers say, "we envision new partnerships between the biotech companies and skin professionals such as prosthesis experts and tattooists in order to embrace the idea of human-device symbiosis."

Just don't get it in a barbed wire design. That's still not cool. ®

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