Color-Changing Tattoos May Change the Way We Monitor Health Issues

Biosensor Tattoos

Stock Photos from Mikhail_Kayl/Shutterstock

Monitoring your health may get a lot easier thanks to technology being developed by a team of researchers in Germany. As detailed in a recently published article, scientists have developed tattoos that change color according to the body's levels of glucose and albumin or its pH. This would allow patients with illnesses like diabetes or kidney disease to keep track of their health without having to take constant blood samples.

The tattoos work thanks to dermal sensors applied to tattoo ink. Once the tattoo is applied to the skin, it will change color according to changes in specific health indicators. For example, the pH indicator causes a tattoo to move from yellow to blue as pH changes from five to nine. The other two indicators—glucose and albumin—are particularly relevant for diabetics and patients with kidney disease.

Color Changing Tattoos

As albumin carries protein in the blood, lowered levels can indicate kidney or liver issues. On the other hand, high glucose levels can indicate diabetic issues. The albumin indicator works to transform the tattoo from yellow to green thanks to a dye that takes on a green color when in contact with albumin protein. The glucose indicator is based on an enzymatic reaction that changes the pigment from yellow to dark green depending on the patient's glucose levels.

By weaving these dyes into regular tattoo designs, patients would be offered an aesthetically pleasing and, once the tattoo is applied, non-invasive way to monitor their health, long-term. For now, the tattoos have only been tested on pig skin, which is commonly used by tattoo artists as a practice material. Similar technology was proposed by MIT researchers in 2017, though their biosensors glowed in the dark according to pH and sodium levels.

Color Changing Tattoos

There are still hurdles to overcome if the color-changing tattoos are to make an impact on the medical world. For one, only one of the three tattoos was reversible. While the pH sensor can shift time and time again, the albumin and glucose tattoos can only shift once. Through further research, scientists are hoping to make all the tattoos reversible using synthetic receptors.

h/t: [Science Alert, boingboing]

All images via Wiley-VCH except where noted.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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