back to article Harvard, MIT boffins ink up with health-monitoring 'smart' tats

Researchers at Harvard and MIT have developed a subdermal ink capable of monitoring vitals such as hydration and blood sugar. The team of eight researchers found that by mixing optical biosensors with tattoo ink, they are able to create tattoos (dubbed "dermal abyss" or "d-abyss") that react with the body's own fluids and …

  1. Flakk

    Just don't get it in a barbed wire design. That's still not cool.

    Agreed. Since hydration level is a suggested use case, I think a "Brawndo - The Thirst Mutilator" product logo would be much cooler.

  2. Jeffrey Nonken

    "still disappoints your mother"

    Yeah, she'll be turning in her grave... OH WAIT, SHE WAS CREMATED

    She's just gonna have to start haunting me if it bugs her that much.

  3. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    I don't do tattoos...

    but I'd sign up for trials on that one - I've been crying out for a non-invasive continuous blood sugar measurement for years, and this comes pretty close.

    I wonder how long it lasts?

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      "crying out for a non-invasive continuous blood sugar measurement for years, "

      Decades in fact.

      At one time people were talking about looking at a sensor you could kiss (very thin skin) and shine light through.

      This is (sort of) the n-th generation spin on that plan.

    2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: I don't do tattoos...

      I wonder how long it lasts?

      Even if it's a year, I'd still sign up for one.

  4. PNGuinn

    Q a new extreme sport among the young .....

    Colour parties where the participants take interesting substances to make their tattoos change to interesting colours never yet seen by yoofkind.

    We'll run out of Darwin awards next.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hmm, could combine that with toilet diagnostics

    You could couple that with the diagnostics already available in some Japanese toilets - a couple of butt cheek tattoos and done.

    "I'm not spanking, I'm activating bio sensors"


  6. David Roberts


    What a load of bullshit.

    Serious users would almost certainly be more than happy with a simple graduated scale which changed colour alongside the scale to show the current value.

    For example blood glucose on a scale of 3 to 12.

    I assume this would work nicely with a smart watch (or other bracelet) with a light source and camera to continuously record the values; first obvious problem is keeping the camera located in exactly the right place. Certainly good for scanning with a mobile phone app. Very good as a medic alert tattoo when an unconcious (or mentally wandering) diabetic goes low or high. Hypo or Hyper with suitable instructions highlighted.

    I would be happy with one on the back of my hand showing blood glucose and blood ketone levels. Biggest task would be to source some backless cycling gloves.

    No doubt Big Pharma would make sure you had to renew the tattoo every month just to keep the revenue stream nice and active.

  7. ukgnome

    OK - Aside from the fact that this story first hit the guardian two months ago...

    The most diabetic person I know has told me she thinks this is a great idea, however she has also mentioned that it would take her months to decide on a design.

    I also showed her the wearable tech from Libre and she almost cried. With laughter I should say, the super expensive Libre sensor looks fugly. Whilst a tattoo could look sleek, even sexy the placement would have to be limited basically to the arms. It is a leap forward but limited.

    1. jmch Silver badge


      Sure, it's cool that anyone wanting/needing continuous unintrusive monitoring can have that available, but that's also kind of broadcasting the wearer's medical conditions to all and sundry. Surely that's not ideal.

      Maybe a v. 2.0 could work outside of the visible spectrum, combined with an external reader?

  8. PapaD

    As a diabetic

    I'd certainly be interested in one, though i'd probably have it on the bottom of my left forearm, rather than on the back of my hand.

    Then it's more of a conscious decision to look at it, rather than it being evident to anyone who wanted to take a look.

    As for design, i'd go for something aesthetically pleasing, rather than some boring scale - so most people would simply assume it was a normal tattoo, rather than a medical alert tattoo.

  9. teebie

    "This incentivizes users to maintain care for their health and by extension, maintain desirable aesthetics of the tattoo"

    So the tattoo turns ugly if you don't look after your health? Are the people who are most bothered by the aesthetics, rather than the health implication the first people we want to help?

    I can't tell from the article how helpful this is to the colourblind - draw a thermometer on my arm that fills up when I need to eat/drink/medicate by all means, but an apple that turns from green to red is no help.

  10. Wim Jongejan

    It's not what is pretends to be

    It is not what it pretends to be: a safe way of monitoring body-vitals. What about the reliability of the results in different types of skinpigmentation in not-Caucasian individuals. What about checking the results when skin has changed colour by suntan. No validation seen until now. Will a vendor ever take responsibility for the reliability of the results??

  11. Cynic_999

    How would Big Brother use this new tech?

    Is a question I always ask.

    How about mandatory tattoos in a visible part of the body (e.g. forehead) that signals when the person has taken illegal substances or is above the drink-drive alcohol limit?

  12. Mike Moyle

    But what happens if you stare into d-abyss?

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like