Diabetics: Stop Pricking Your Fingers and Get a Tattoo Instead?

Article by Becky Errico | 544 words

Diabetic people have to jump through many hoops to monitor their blood sugar, whether it’s pricking their fingers throughout the day or using an insulin pump. These two diabetes management methods, however, require the tester to go beneath the skin. As if the symptoms of diabetes weren’t enough enough of discomfort, the painful, annoying process could lead diabetics to avoid the procedure altogether. But things may be changing for them soon, thanks to a very small patch.

How the Diabetic Tattoo-Like Patch Works

A special patch is being developed by scientists at the University of California in San Diego. They believe that it will be able to constantly monitor the individual’s blood sugar, as CNBC.com reports. The patch has been called a temporary tattoo because of its early design. The scientists took the paper used for temporary tattoos and put electrodes with a sensor on it, as PopSci.com explains. These sensors allow the patch to collect information without needing blood.

The diabetic tattoo

Credit: RT.com

A short time after the person eats, the patch begins sending small electric currents through itself. The current brings glucose up toward the surface of the skin. The glucose then reacts with an enzyme in the patch, says CNBC.com. From here, the glucose level is estimated and the information is relayed to the person wearing the patch. When the researchers tested this process on non-diabetic individuals, the outcomes were similar to the results from when the blood was directly tested via traditional means. Simply put: this patch is accurate.

The Tattoo Route is Only Temporary?

As of right now, the tattoos are temporary. Amay Bandodkar, a nanoengineering graduate who worked on the project, said that each tattoo would work for a day before having to be replaced, as PopSci.com explains.

The whole idea of using the patch as a tattoo might be temporary as well. The team at the University of California is working with another team so that the technology can be put into a watch or another type of band instead of directly on the skin, according to CNBC.com.

Other Glucose Monitors with a Tattoo Flavor

The patch idea may sound familiar to some, and that’s because it is. Back in the early 2000s, another patch-like device to read glucose was created. But it never really took off since it caused skin irritation. The University of California’s patch, on the other hand, uses a much lower current and shouldn’t cause the same irritation, says PopSci.com.

This idea isn’t the only innovative way to monitor glucose. Another tattoo was used only a few years back. In that case, the tattoos were real. The ink that was used had nanoparticles in it, and when paired with a sensor, the tattoo could watch glucose for six months before it had to be reapplied, says PopSci.com. This tattoo hasn’t even reached human testing, though.

However, research from the University of California and other institutions is making many promising strides. Working for type 1 diabetes is just the first step. If the patch idea is successful, it could have many more applications. It could help type 2 diabetics, those who are dealing with kidney disease or even athletes keeping track of their nutrition, says CNBC.com. The whole concept of tattoo-like patches could open a lot more avenues for other types of medical monitoring—all without being invasive.

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