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Now in Development: A Tattoo That Could Save Your Life

By Rachel Cernansky
Feb 5, 2009 5:45 AMNov 5, 2019 8:48 AM


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It’s not quite the kind of science tattoo that The Loom displays in its gallery, but scientists in Cambridge, MA are developing a nanosensor that can be injected into the skin, like a tattoo, to monitor blood sugar levels. The sensor, still in early development, is intended to save diabetics from having to finger-prick and use enzyme test strips on their own blood, which is currently the most reliable method to measure blood glucose. The "tattoo" will be comprised of 120-nanometer polymer beads, and will actually be shallower than the ink of a real tattoo. Injected into the surface layers of the skin, the sensor will need to be re-injected periodically. Each polymer bead, wrapped in a biocompatible coating, contains sensor molecules that are designed to detect specific chemicals—which, in addition to glucose, will also potentially include sodium, chloride, and calcium. Once implanted, the beads will become fluorescent under an infrared light once blood glucose increases. The sensors will pull in the target chemical, and then a dye molecule will release an ion of the same charge to compensate for the presence of the new ion. The dye causes the fluorescence to appear, in concentrations proportionate to the level of glucose (or other target chemical) in the blood. Researchers have a long way to go before the tattoo will be ready for human use, and it will involve carrying around a fluorescence monitor to measure the emission of light from your skin. But it'll sure beat pricking your finger—and who knows, maybe they’ll even offer custom designs so you'll be able to wear your favorite image. Related Content: Disco: A Pill for DiabeticsDisco: Vital Signs: Strange things can happen when the brain runs low on sugarThe Loom: Science Tattoo Friday: Contains Carbon

Image: Courtesy of The Loom

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