In a survey from 2 years ago, the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) established in Brussels, Belgium, explained that over 400 million individuals suffer from diabetes throughout the world. Somewhere around 90% of those people have type 2 diabetes. In accordance to the IDF, more individuals died of diabetes than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined in 2015.
Diabetes patients have to keep a constant eye on their blood sugar levels – usually a time-consuming procedure. Affected individuals generally have to prick themselves in the finger to get a small amount of blood that’s then analyzed by a blood sugar measurement device to figure out the value. But in the future, it may only take a quick check of your underarm to see when you will need to have an insulin shot.
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard are currently working on a new, creative approach that may one day make it easier to check your blood sugar level, pH level, or sodium level by using a biosensing tattoo.
— Nik Hewitt (@nikhewitt) June 12, 2017
The researchers have developed a special type of ink that changes color according to the blood sugar level, pH value or sodium level in your body. If, for example, your blood sugar level begins to rise, the color of the ink responsible for detecting glucose will change from blue to brown.
If the pH value changes, the ink will change from purple to pink, and higher sodium values will result in the ink changing green when viewed under UV light.
— 38TheSpot (@38TheSpot) June 15, 2017
The chemicals in the biosensing ink, known as “DermalAbyss”, don’t actually react with your blood. Instead they react with the tissue fluid that makes up the substance filling the space between cells. Here’s where you find water, ions, and dissolved substances such as salt, sugar, fat, amino acids, and hormones.
But Xin Liu from the MIT Media Lab points out that this technology remains at a very early stage of development. The ink has only been tested on pig skin, which is very similar to human skin, and not on living animals let alone people.
— Motherboard (@motherboard) June 3, 2017
Liu is keen to stress that there are a lot of uncertainties to clear up before the ink can be used on the skin of living animals. For example, research still needs to be conducted on allergic reactions, long-term reliability, and accuracy.
“It will take a long time for anything practical to go to market, but the technology evokes emotions and opens up possibilities. People with diabetes email us and say: ‘I want to try it out,'” commented Liu.
The biosensing ink can be used like normal tattoo ink; all you need to do is provide the design you want. Looking beyond its scientific appeal, many people will simply be attracted by the tattoo as a form of body art.
However, scientists say the focus is on being able to monitor patients’ health as easily, safely, and accurately as possible to make checking these indicators less of a chore. Let’s hope they’re successful with this new development that has the potential to make the lives of people with diabetes and other disorders much less complicated.