A “tattoo” to help monitor blood sugar levels?

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Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are taking preliminary steps toward developing a “tattoo” that could enable diabetics to constantly monitor blood sugar levels — without having to routinely change equipment or perform routine finger pricks to test blood. The experimental technology being developed by MIT postdoctoral researcher Paul Barone and chemical engineering professor Michael Strano would inject tiny particles of “ink” designed to release different wavelengths of light in response to different concentrations of blood glucose. Patients would wear a small device atop these “tattoos” that could interpret the changing wavelengths as constant, accurate blood glucose measurements.

While previous research has shown that constant glucose monitoring can help patients avoid the dangerous dips and surges in blood sugar that are most harmful, most patients with type 1 diabetes currently rely on multiple daily finger pricks to monitor blood sugar levels, and constant monitoring systems that are presently available need routine adjustment — which requires patients to take blood samples using finger pricks — and cannot be used for extended periods of time.

According to the MIT News service, the technology now being developed by Barone and Strano would implant a saline solution containing the “ink” — made up of miniscule carbon tubes coated in a polymer that responds to changes in glucose — under the skin of patients. When glucose levels change, the light waves emitted by the “ink” change. These fluctuations can in turn be read by a small monitor worn by the diabetic patient enabling him to have instant information about his own blood sugar levels. The researchers estimate that each “tattoo” would last roughly half a year.

Well, that’s how it should work in theory. While the underlying technology has been tested, its application in humans is years away. Still, the researchers say they hope to begin animal trials in the near future. Should the new tattoo technique prove effective, it could mean a world of difference for diabetics, Strano told MIT News:

“The most problematic consequences of diabetes result from relatively short excursions of a person’s blood sugar outside of the normal physiological range, following meals, for example… If we can detect and prevent these excursions, we can go a long way toward reducing the devastating impact of this disease.”