Phone It In

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It might sound strange, but a time in which tattoos can help people with their health is actually very close to happening.  We’ve already seen medical alert tattoos, which serve the same purpose as a bracelet, but something bigger is being developed along with the help of Mac, one of the world’s most beloved computer companies.

A team of scientists from the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Northeastern University has developed a tattoo that actually goes beneath the skin.  How that happens is that a solution is injected into the patient.  The nanoparticles will fluoresce when they come in contact with a target molecule and then with the help of a modified iPhone, the levels of the target molecules can be read.  The tattoo that is injected beneath the skin is invisible to the naked eye.

If all of this sounds more than a little confusing to you, well, that’s because it is.  But this sort of technology is capable of tracking a host of molecules that can be very helpful to doctors and particularly, patients.

The tattoos were originally as a way around the finger-prick bloodletting that is the standard technique for measuring glucose levels in those with diabetes. But Clark says they could be used to track many things besides glucose and sodium, offering a simpler, less painful, and more accurate way for many people to track many important biomarkers.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that this sort of technology will catch on,” says Jim Burns, head of drug and biomedical research and development at Genzyme.

This story has definitely changed since I first found out about it last year.  Back then, there was only talk of an injected tattoo that could help Diabetes sufferers.  The entire thing didn’t have the scope that it does now, nor was an iPhone involved.

‘Here’s how it works: a case that slips over the iPhone contains a nine-volt battery, a filter that fits over the iPhone’s camera, and an array of three LEDs that produce light in the visible part of the spectrum. This light causes the tattoos to fluoresce. A light-filtering lens is then placed over the iPhone’s camera. This filters out the light released by the LEDs, but not the light emitted by the tattoo. The device is pressed to the skin to prevent outside light from interfering.

Dubach and Clark hope to create an iPhone app that would easily measure and record sodium levels. At the moment, the iPhone simply takes images of the fluorescence, which the researchers then export to a computer for analysis. They also hope to get the reader to draw power from the iPhone itself, rather than from a battery.

Clark is working to expand her technology from glucose and sodium to include a wide range of potential targets. “Let’s say you have medication with a very narrow therapeutic range,” she says. Today, “you have to try it [a dosage] and see what happens.” She says her nanosensors, in contrast, could let people monitor the level of a given drug in their blood in real time, allowing for much more accurate dosing.’

Ah tattoos…is there anything that they can’t do?

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