Smart Body Art: Glucose-Monitoring Tattoos for Diabetics

Several-times-daily testing of blood sugar can make life difficult for diabetics. They’re chained to their glucose monitors in a way, making it hard to live a regular life. Continuous glucose monitoring is helpful, but just as intrusive in one’s life. A team at MIT is developing a method for tattooing diabetics with a nanoparticle ink that will keep track of glucose levels, eliminating the need for multiple finger pricks every day. The method is different from the implantable medical monitors being developed by the University of Pennsylvania; rather than tiny LEDs under the skin, the diabetes-monitoring tattoos would consist of nanotubes wrapped in a glucose-sensitive polymer.

The “ink” is sensitive to changes in glucose levels and fluoresces in a way that can be seen under near-infrared light. To read the fluorescent information, the diabetic patient would wear a small wristwatch-like device over the tattoo that would provide an instant, real-time reading of his or her blood sugar level. And unlike most tattoos, the nanoparticle ink only lasts for about six months before it needs to be refreshed with a touch-up tattoo.

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See more in Cybernetics or under Technology. June, 2010.