Tattoo developed that can test blood sugar levels

by Barbara Hewitt on January 19, 2015

Researchers in the United States have developed a temporary tattoo that can test blood sugar levels in diabetics without the need for needles.

The tattoo both extracts and measures the level of glucose in the fluid between skin cells and scientists hope that it will eventually have Bluetooth capabilities that will send the information directly to whoever needs it.

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The temporary tattoo both extracts and measures glucose levels

The tattoo consists of carefully patterned electrodes printed on temporary tattoo paper. A very mild electrical current is applied to the skin for 10 minutes and forces sodium ions in the fluid between the skin cells to migrate towards the tattoo’s electrodes.

These ions carry glucose molecules that are also found in the fluid. A sensor built into the tattoo then measures the strength of the electrical charge produced by the glucose to determine a person’s overall glucose levels.

The research team applied the tattoo to seven men and women between ages 20 and 40 with no history of diabetes. None of the volunteers reported feeling discomfort during the tattoo test and only a few people reported feeling a mild tingling in the first 10 seconds of the test.

According to graduate student Amay Bandodkar this “proof of concept” tattoo could pave the way for their research facility to explore other uses of the device, such as detecting other important metabolites in the body or delivering medicines through the skin.

“The readout instrument for patients will eventually have Bluetooth capabilities to send this information directly to the patient’s doctor in real time or store data in the cloud,” he explained.

The research team is now working on ways to make the tattoo last longer while keeping its overall cost down.

“Presently, the tattoo sensor can easily survive for a day. These are extremely inexpensive and can be replaced without much financial burden on the patient,” Bandodkar said.

The sensor was developed and tested by Bandodkar and colleagues in professor Joseph Wang’s lab at the nano engineering department and the Centre for Wearable Sensors at the Jacobs School of Engineering at the University of California San Diego.

The standard way of checking glucose requires a prick to the finger to draw blood for testing. The pain associated with this technique can discourage people from keeping tabs on their glucose regularly. A glucose sensing wristband had been introduced to patients, but it caused skin irritation and was discontinued.

The University of California researchers hope the tattoo will eventually be used to monitor levels of other compounds in the blood – such as metabolites, medications, alcohol or illegal drugs and help with the management of other conditions such as kidney disease.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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