Color-Changing Tattoos Could Be the Next BG Level Detector

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Scientists at a Cambridge, Massachusetts, laboratory who set out to develop a tattoo for tracking heart health may now be on track for developing a tattoo for people with diabetes that changes color as blood glucose levels rise and fall. If it becomes a workable approach, the tattoo technology could spare millions of people the tiresome, often painful routine of pricking themselves throughout the day to produce blood samples for their glucose monitors. 

Draper Laboratories, a nanotechnology company, is working on an injectable ink that contains tiny particles (about 120 billionths of a meter across) whose three components interact to indicate BG levels. The first component is a glucose-detecting molecule; the second is a glucose-mimicking molecule; and the third is a dye that changes color depending upon the circumstances.

When injected into a person with diabetes, the particles move around “looking” for glucose. If the glucose-detecting molecules find mostly glucose-more likely if BG levels are high-they turn the ink yellow. If glucose levels are low, the molecules latch on to the glucose mimics, producing a purple color. Ideally, say the researchers, healthy BG levels will produce an “orangey” color.

The detection process, which is continuous as the nano-particles move about, takes only a few milliseconds. Even if it does not approach the accuracy of blood sample-based monitors, the tattoo could serve as both a warning system and a recovery monitoring system for too high or too low BG levels.

Draper scientists say that the tattoo would not have to be large or as deep as a conventional tattoo. Experiments on mice are scheduled to begin in March. The company says that it expects human trials to begin in 2011.

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