Thanks to myriad technological advancements over the past few years, wearable tattoos have burst onto the scene as everything from sweat-powered phone chargers to surfaces for touchpads and graphical readouts. But turning real, permanent ink tattoos into more than just body art has remained a relatively dormant field. That looks like it’s set to change now, however, with the help of smart ink that can alter its color based on changes in a person’s physiology. Which, yes, makes it kind of like a mood ring for your health.
It may not be anything as impressive as Amy’s talking tattoo in Futurama, but this smart ink, developed by researchers at Harvard Medical School and MIT’s Media Lab, is still exceptionally utilitarian considering that it doesn’t require any kind of circuitry or power source like the wearable health-monitoring tattoos we’ve seen before. In the above clip, we see the smart ink in action as a part of a proof-of-concept project dubbed “Dermal Abyss.” Which feels like a name less suited to a health monitoring ink and more an excuse as to why you couldn’t come out of the bathroom for junior prom.
Aside from the project’s sad-high-school-memory inducing name, this biotech seems to execute its function perfectly. According to the Harvard Gazette, the ink works by interacting with the body’s chemistry, changing color based on the current levels of a given biomarker. For example, one type of ink changes from green to brown as glucose levels rise. Another green ink, when viewed under blue light, becomes more intense as sodium concentration increases (a possible sign of dehydration).
Although the tattoos have only been demonstrated on pig skin so far, the ink seems promising as a way to monitor long-lasting chronic conditions without the need for a worn monitor, which can be uncomfortable or inconvenient. Nan Jiang, one of the lead researchers of the project, told the Gazette that the ultimate purpose of the project is “to light the imagination of biotechnologists and stimulate public support…” Public support that researchers will have as long as they don’t make any tattoos that talk and are way too confrontational.
Images: Harvard University, Fox
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