Dermal Abyss: Skin Deep Wearable Tech
By Supriti Malhotra

The world of wearable tech is evolving, and its latest development is sensing its way into health vitals in a fashionable design. Blending biotechnology with body art, researchers at MIT Media Labs and Harvard Medical School are collaborating on creating a biosensor interface in the form of ink that can be used for tattoos. Dermal Abyss, the biosensing tattoo ink with  four biosensors, is designed to change color based on pH, glucose, and sodium levels. According to the MIT and Harvard researchers, “The Dermal Abyss creates a direct access to the compartments in the body and reflects inner metabolic processes in a shape of a tattoo.

The Dermal Abyss senses changes in interstitial fluid (IF) or tissue fluid, which surrounds the cells in tissues.  IF generally accounts for 40% of water in the human body, and 16% of body weight. It contains amino acids, sugars, fatty acids, coenzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and salts, while acting as a medium for gases, nutrients, and waste materials to travel between capillaries and cells. As a biosensing ink, the Dermal Abyss provides the ability to monitor IF for changes in pH, glucose, and sodium levels. Optimum pH levels help maintain various bodily functions, and the Dermal Abyss senses IF’s alkalinity (pH level). Although the glucose levels in IF are not the same as in the blood, the biosensor provides an approximate indicator without the need for constant needle pricks for monitoring sugar levels. The inky health tracker helps monitor sodium levels, which determine the water and electrolyte balance in the body. According to the researchers, “The pH sensor changes between purple and pink, the glucose sensor shifts between blue and brown; the sodium and a second pH sensor fluoresce at a higher intensity under UV light.

Since the Dermal Abyss is only in the proof-of-concept stage, the researchers have not yet planned commercial development. The biosensing ink would have to go through several rigorous tests before it is commercially viable. Although the initial testing has been done on pig skin, the prospect for the healthcare of millions of diabetic patients, or those patients who need constant monitoring of health vitals is promising. The researchers assert, “We believe that in the future, on-skin electronics will no longer be black-boxed and mystified. Instead they will converge towards the user friendliness, extensibility, and aesthetics of body decorations.” The symbiosis of wearable tech with healthcare has found a flair for body art design.

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