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Tattoos Used To Control Diabetes

Posted: Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Massachusetts-based Draper Laboratories is developing a special tattoo ink that changes color based on glucose levels inside the skin.

Nanotechnology researchers associated with the project believe that the injectable ink may one day prove helpful in freeing diabetics from painful blood glucose tests.

Tatoos to control diabetes (Getty images) 

Tatoos to control diabetes (Getty images)  Heather Clark, a scientist at Draper, stated that, "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." She has revealed that her team did not actually set out to create a glucose-detecting ink.  "At first I didn'’t even think it was possible," she said.

Clark revealed that she and her colleagues originally created a sodium-sensitive ink to monitor heart health, advancing basic knowledge of electrolytes in the body, or to ensure athletes are properly hydrated.

She said that it was only after talking to a colleague that she decided to give glucose detection a try, starting with the basic
three-part system to detect sodium then modifying it to detect glucose.

The nano ink particles are tiny, squishy spheres about 120 nanometers across, inside of which are three parts: the glucose detecting molecule, a colour-changing dye, and another molecule that mimics glucose.  Clark says that the particles look like food coloring when dissolved in water.

According to her, the three parts continuously move around inside the hydrophobic orb.
Upon approaching 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.  The sampling process repeats itself every few milliseconds.

She says that even if there is a significant lag time between blood and skin glucose levels, a small tattoo would let diabetics know if an abnormally high or low reading was either returning to a normal level or getting worse.

She has revealed that the testing of the glucose monitoring nanotech ink in mice could begin by the end of this month but human testing may have to wait for at least two years.

Robert Rubin, a professor at Harvard Medical School, is excited by Clark'’s work at Draper.
"This will give me a great shortcut for understanding what is happening inside the body," said Rubin.

Source: Diabetes In Control: Draper, Inc.

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