Nanotats: nanotube inks under skin could monitor blood glucose levels

Paul Raven @ 03-06-2010

Diseases like diabetes demand regular monitoring… which currently means pricking one’s finger for a blood sample once a day, maybe more. It’ll be cold comfort for those afraid of needles in general, but chemical engineers at MIT have developed an ink based on carbon nanotubes that, if injected under the skin, could act as a sort of constant glucose-level monitor [via Technovelgy]:

The sensor is based on carbon nanotubes wrapped in a polymer that is sensitive to glucose concentrations. When this sensor encounters glucose, the nanotubes fluoresce, which can be detected by shining near-infrared light on them. Measuring the amount of fluorescence reveals the concentration of glucose.

The researchers plan to create an “ink” of these nanoparticles suspended in a saline solution that could be injected under the skin like a tattoo. The “tattoo” would last for a specified length of time, probably six months, before needing to be refreshed.

To get glucose readings, the patient would wear a monitor that shines near-infrared light on the tattoo and detects the resulting fluorescence.

So you’d still need some intermediary hardware, but it’s not a ludicrously implausible step to suggest that eventually you might just get a tattoo whose colour would change to inform you of any problems. And hell, why stop there? The transhumanist sympathiser in me can’t help but think that two full-arm sleeves of designs cranking out live data on the state of my meatmachine would be nothing short of awesome… like conky, but for biological systems!

That said, it’d probably achieve little more than letting me watch my arteries clog in minute detail as I spent day after day sat in a swivel chair pecking away at a keyboard…