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The Dermal Abyss

These color-changing tattoos could be lifesavers for people suffering from chronic diseases


They're like mood rings, expect they have more potential to change lives, especially those suffering from chronic diseases like diabetes.

MIT and Harvard researchers collaborated on a project dubbed "The Dermal Abyss" to create tattoos of the future. Instead of filling the tattoo gun with traditional ink, they used biosensor liquids that have the ability to change colors on the skin. Katia Vega, a PHD associate at MIT and current associate professor at UC-Davis, explained that the biosensor tattoos change in response to fluids already circulating your skin.

"So imagine you have diabetes. Your glucose levels go up and down so you can see that your tattoo is changing color and you will know when you need more insulin."
Katia Vega

Vega and the rest of the research team chose to study three different biosensor liquids--glucose, sodium and PH--because there is a high concentration of these elements in the skin.

"The main goal of this project is how you could read information that is inside of your body that you usually don't have access to," Vega continued, offering a pain-free solution to diabetics who have to check their insulin levels anywhere between three and 10 times per day.

Vega said the tattoos could also be beneficial to people living with Crohn's disease, an inflammatory illness that affects the lining of the digestive tract, often causing severe abdominal pain and fatigue. That inflammation, according to medical professions, reduces the absorption of sodium. The National Kidney Foundation reported that hyponatremia, which occurs when a person's sodium levels are abnormally low, could lead to other medical problems, such as low blood pressure, muscle weakness, or seizures.

But with the biosensor tattoo, a person would be warned when sodium levels decreased to a point of concern, Vega added.

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The native Peruvian explained that she first became fascinated with the intersection of beauty and when she noticed the extent that women will go to modify their bodies, either with unconventional piercings, outrageous nails or eclectic makeup.

"If we are doing all this effort, and adding these adornments to our body, then let's put some electronics, some technology. That'll make it more [engaging]."

For now, The Dermal Project remains a concept, though, Vega said she's open to working on developing the project with additional tests and collaboration.

She said, "For me, it's very exciting to think about new possibilities of the body and to think about new interfaces in a way that it wasn't explored before."

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