Realtime Health Tracking Using Biosensor based Tattoos

Possibilities of Biosensors as a Tattooed Interface. Image source: MIT

A collaborative team of researchers from MIT and Harvard Medical School has developed a color-changing tattoo that can track our health in real time. As such acting like biosensor.

They have replaced traditional tattoo ink with a biosensor. This biosensor changes color in response to alterations in interstitial fluid. A sort of tissue fluid in which our tissue cells are submerged.


This exciting research is an outcome of DermalAbyss. It is a proof-of-concept project that focuses on a new approach to fluid interfaces. It is here that the human skin acts as a display window.

The Dermal Abyss creates a direct access to the compartments in the body. Further it reflects the inner metabolic processes in a shape of a tattoo. It could be used for applications in continuously monitoring such as medical diagnostics, quantified self, and data encoding in the body,” says Katia Vega, lead researcher of the project.

Researchers have made biosensors that change color in response to three kinds of biochemical alterations in tissue fluid: glucose, sodium, and pH.


Of all three, one that shifts from blue to brown due to change in blood sugar level can be a routine-breaker for many diabetic patients who depend on daily finger-prick test to monitor glucose level.

People with diabetes email us and say, ‘I want to try it out,‘” says MIT Media Lab researcher Xin Liu.

Biosensors as tattoos
Fashionable tattoos such as this could become a health trend. Image source: Dezeen

The second one is a pH sensor that shifts from purple to pink following changes in body pH. The third one is a sodium sensor that fluoresces at higher intensity under UV light in response to change in salt level.

Although the whole thing is still in a proof-of-concept stage, it can be an easy alternative for tracking health dynamics.

This is the first demonstration of a tattoo-based sensor,” said Harvard Medical School  researcher Ali Yetisen. He adds, “We wanted to design a system that can overcome [health] challenges with wearable systems.

We envision that this technology will open new avenues in the development of real-time sensors and will go beyond wearables,” says Yetisen. To check the color intensity and functionality of these biosensors, researchers have conducted preliminary testing on pig skin. However, presently they have no plan to move into clinical trials.


More studies are needed to improve resolutions of these biosensors in terms of range of colors and intensities. Selectivity and range of biochemical detection need further optimization as well.

Checking cytotoxicity and biocompatibility of tattoos are also of prime importance before applying it for human use. One more cause of concern can be diffusion of tattoo into the tissue. The researchers said that they will look into this as the first of a series of steps.

There are many steps in the development of this project,” says MIT researcher Katia Vega. “Next steps should be the use of [more] ex vivo experiments, then in animals, and as the last step in humans.”

One potential research direction would be to conjugate the biosensors to polymeric microspheres through acrylate groups to prevent diffusion into tissues,” researchers mentioned on their project website.

However, this is not the first on-skin device that monitors our health or just simply controls our smartphone.  John Rogers, the founder of MC10, developed an on-skin electronic that provide biometric healthcare analysis.

Another invention is DuoSkin, which fabricates customized on-skin functional devices that can control mobile gadgets as well as display and store information.

In September, the team is going to present their findings at the 2017 International Symposium on Wearable Computers.

This is hope beyond hype!

Source MIT

You might also like More from author

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.