Imperial College London

Could smart tattoos soon monitor your health?

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What do you get when you cross an engineer, a tattooist, and a dash of creativity?

Smart tattoos, of course!

It was exciting to see the concept played out on real skin at the Imperial Late – and our guests thought so too. Rosalia Moreddu Department of Chemical Engineering

Artistic and scientific minds alike crowded to see tattooist Emma Wilkinson create an inky image of Imperial’s Queen’s Tower during February's Imperial Late.

Emma used an ink developed by Imperial academics which contains a pigment that changes colour depending on its wearer’s health status. The colour change can be detected using a smartphone app.

The ink was demonstrated on animal skin, but the idea could eventually alert human wearers to health issues - by warning diabetic patients about fluctuating blood sugar levels, or helping to keep athletes’ hydration levels in check.

The idea is the brainchild of Dr Ali Yetisen and PhD student Rosalia Moreddu, both from Imperial’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Institute for Molecular Science and Engineering. Rosalia is testing potential tattoo sensors as part of her PhD.

Rosalia said: “It was exciting to see the concept played out on real skin at the Imperial Late – and our guests thought so too.”

Inking straight

I enjoyed demonstrating what can happen when you think outside the box. Emma Wilkinson Tattoo artist

The pigment in the ink can detect and measure molecules like glucose in the blood through skin.

The Imperial Late event was one of the earliest demonstrations of a tattooist applying such an ink to real skin.

Tattooist Emma, who is based at London’s Rotary Heaven studio, said: “It was fascinating to see the worlds of science and art combine in this way. To many, the two are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

“I enjoyed demonstrating what can happen when you think outside the box.”

The researchers are currently developing their own app to detect the changes in colour and associate them to concentration values, but the research is still at an early stage and hasn’t yet been tested on humans. 

Next, the researchers will focus on improving the properties of the inks for potential use in humans in the future.

Photo Emma, Rosalia and Kieran at the event
Emma, Rosalia and Kieran with the 'smart' inks

Reporters

Caroline Brogan

Caroline Brogan
Communications and Public Affairs

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Contact details

Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 3415
Email: caroline.brogan@imperial.ac.uk

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Liam Duan

Liam Duan
Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication

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