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Can a Tattoo Save My Life?

My game plan is to research, condense my findings, and translate it into everyday language for busy people.


Tattoos That Save Lives

What if you started your day by using a special light from your cell phone to make visible an invisible tattoo that changed color to indicate the level of insulin in your blood so you can manage your diabetes before you went to see you grandmother who wore a temporary tattoo to measure her heart condition that was connected to an app on her cell phone and a grandfather who had a tattoo that was invisible and only would become visible if his cancer were to return in early stages? Scientists in different countries at various research facilities are developing both temporary and permanent tattoos with life saving implications. There are tattoos that have been developed that use biosensitive ink that monitor certain aspects of people's health that are much more effective due to their overcoming the limitations of the most commonly used monitoring devices for people's health. The tattoos change color based upon the chemistry of the interstitial fluid. The interstitial fluid can be used in place of a person's blood.

The tattoo that is used to monitor diabetes changes from green to brown depending upon the glucose in the interstitial fluid. They also developed a green ink that gets more intense as salt concentration rises. Too high salt concentration is a symptom of dehydration. They have formulated tattoos so that the ink can be invisible and only seen under a certain kind of light such as that of a smart phone.

"The purpose of the work is to light the imagination of biotechnologists and stimulate public support for such efforts. These questions of how technology impacts our lives must be considered as carefully as the design of the molecular sensors patients may someday carry embedded."

— Nan Jiang, a postdocteral fellow at Harvard Medical School

Instead of pricking themselves in the finger every day to monitor their blood sugar, what if people with diabetes had a tattoo that measures insulin by changing color? According to the American Diabetes Association there are around 30.3 million people living with diabetes in the United States and monitoring the level of sugar within their blood is a huge part of managing the disease. This type of technology being developed has life saving implications. Researchers working out of the University of California in San Diego developed a temporary tattoo that can measure the blood sugar through a person's sweat. Then, it is peeled off and thrown away. This type of monitoring of a person's blood sugar is a much less invasive way than pricking your finger and drawing blood everyday. They are also planning to get the strip to monitor the glucose all day rather than for a small amount of time. It has been suggested by researchers that one strip should cost one dollar which would make it no more costly than glucose test strips. These strips are being tested on people with both type one and type two diabetes.

Temporary Tattoo that Measures Blood Sugar


Drawing blood is uncomfortable. No one likes doing it. The beauty of the technology we are developing is that it its a truly non-invasive means to measure glucose. The main purpose of our research is to develop new technologies that can monitor glucose without drawing blood and ideally measure it over the course of a day. By giving this real-time information to patients, they can manage their consumption of sugars and injections of insulin much better than with periodic spot measurements."

— Patrick Mercier, an assistant professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering

Can a Tattoo Detect Cancer?

Although researchers from Harvard and other research facilities developed "smart tattoos" with biosensitive ink that changes colors based off the intersitial fluid, a team of researchers from the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering at Eldgenossische Technische Hochschule in Zurich, Switzerland, developed a tattoo for detecting the presence of cancer. The researchers refer to this as a "biomedical tattoo". This tattoo is designed to detect four types of cancer: breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer.

Cancer Detecting Tattoo

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When cancer is in its early stages, calcium in the blood becomes majorly elevated. Once the tattoo is implemented, it measures the calcium so that if there is too much calcium melanin, the natural pigment of the skin, increases in the area where the tattoo was implemented making what looks like a brown mole appear. This would alert the person they may be in the early stages of cancer.

Can a tattoo Predict a Heart Attack?

In the year 2015, John Rogers, a materials scientist and physical chemist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, developed a temporary tattoo that measures blood flow rates by changing color with temperature changes within the body. It is made of liquid crystals that change color indicating changes in heart rate, decreased blood flow, and skin hydration. This way, if someone who has a heart condition sees it change color, they are alerted they have a problem. Then, the person can use a special smart phone app and snap a photo of the patch so that the data is translated into a health report.

Heat Sensing Tattoo


The color difference will allow you to be able to map your blood flow, different veins, and tell you about your cardiac health and different physiological things in your body."

— Anthony Banks, an engineer at the University of Illinois


In conclusion, there are temporary and permanent tattoos being developed that could improve and even reshape the way people monitor diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart conditions. This type of technology will have many life saving implications and may better the lives and even save the lives of millions of people. This type of technology is only in the early phases. However, we should see it expand and become more available to the general public within the next couple of decades.

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