Cambridge, Massachusetts’ Draper Laboratory has developed a special tattoo ink that changes colors based on a person’s blood sugar levels. As CrunchGear’s resident diabetic and as someone who lives right down the street from Draper, I’d say that I’m “quite interested” in something like this. Now I just need to think up an awesome tattoo design.
The ink was first developed to keep tabs on heart health and electrolyte levels in athletes but after the process proved to be too complicated, Draper scientist Heather Clark turned to using the ink to detect glucose levels instead. According to Discovery News:
The nano ink particles are tiny, squishy spheres about 120 nanometers across. Inside the sphere are three parts: the glucose detecting molecule, a color-changing dye, and another molecule that mimics glucose. When the particles are dissolved in water they look like food coloring, says Clark.
The three parts continuously move around the inside the hydrophobic orb. When they approach the surface, the glucose detecting molecule either grabs a molecule of glucose or the mimicking molecule.
If the molecules mostly latch onto glucose, the ink appears yellow. If glucose levels are low, the molecule latches onto the glucose mimic, turning the ink purple. A healthy level of glucose has a “funny orangey,” color, according to Clark. The sampling process repeats itself every few milliseconds.
Every few milliseconds versus the once or twice per day that I test my blood sugar levels would be quite an improvement. There’s some question as to the accuracy of the ink – its color changes can apparently lag about 20 minutes behind actual glucose levels – but, again, just give me a ballpark number. That’s all I need. Clark claims that even if the ink lags a bit, it’s still able to show whether blood sugar levels are going upwards or downwards. Exactly.
The tattoos don’t have to be all that large, either, says Clark. “It doesn’t have to be a large, over-the-shoulder kind of tattoo. It would only have to be a few millimeters in size and wouldn’t have to go as deep as a normal tattoo.”
Testing in mice has apparently returned “spectacular” results so far but, like just about everything involved with Diabetes, the actual human product is still a ways off – at least two years, according to Clark. That’s actually not too bad. Most of the time, based on my experience, everything’s been five to ten years from when it’s first announced.
While I’m waiting, maybe I’ll just happen to swing by the lab and see if anyone wants to practice their tattooing. It’d be the least I could do in the name of science.