Glucose-reading tattoo could replace needles

Researchers at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) have come up with a tattoo that can measure glucose levels without the need for invasive needle pricks.

The UCSD team printed electrodes onto standard temporary tattoo paper and paired it with a sensor. After a meal, the electrodes generated a current for about 10 minutes, drawing glucose towards the skin. By measuring how strong the charge was just under the skin, the sensor estimated how much glucose was in the bloodstream.

The researchers tested the device on seven non-diabetic people and found the measurements were consistent with traditional glucose-measuring methods.

However, the tattoo doesn’t currently provide a numerical readout that an individual with diabetes would need to monitor his or her own glucose. Graduate student Amay Bandodkar, who worked on the tattoo, said the development of a readout was currently underway by engineering researchers in the Center for Wearable Sensors. “The readout instrument will also eventually have Bluetooth capabilities to send this information directly to the patient’s doctor in real-time or store data in the cloud,” he added.

The UCSD research team is also working on ways to make the tattoo last longer while keeping its overall cost down. “Presently the tattoo sensor can easily survive for a day. These are extremely inexpensive – a few cents – and hence can be replaced without much financial burden on the patient,” said Bandodkar.

The tattoo builds upon the GlucoWatch, a device released in 2002 that also used electrochemical technology. The watch was never widely used because it caused skin irritation, but the team notes that the tattoo would not have the same effect because it uses a different method of measuring glucose, as well as a lower electrical current.

The UCSD team is additionally hoping to expand the device’s capability to act as a noninvasive way to deliver medicine and to measure other chemicals such as lactate in athletes.

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