If tattoos can accurately be used in the diagnostic process, might clinical laboratories soon offer these types of diagnostic tattoos at their patient service centers?
Could color-changing tattoos help diagnose illnesses? Researchers at the ATLAS Institute at the University of Colorado Boulder think so. They are working on prototypes of permanent tattoos that can detect chemical changes in the body and smart tattoo ink that would take the concept of wearable medical devices to a whole new level.
Called “dynamic” or “smart” tattoos, these color-changing tattoos have a biomedical purpose. They alert individuals to potential health issues due to changes in the biochemistry in their body. The technology has already been used in animal studies to detect sodium, glucose, electrolytes, and pH levels. Pathologists and clinical lab manager will recognize the value of a relatively non-invasive way to measure and track changes in these types of biomarkers.
“We developed a photochromic tattoo that serves as an intradermal ultraviolet (UV) radiometer that provides naked-eye feedback about UV exposure in real time. These small tattoos, or ‘solar freckles’, comprise dermally implanted colorimetric UV sensors in the form of nano encapsulated leuco dyes that become more blue in color with increasing UV irradiance,” the ATLAS scientists wrote.
Studies analyzing the efficacy of dynamic tattoos have provided strong evidence that they can be engineered to change color and sense and convey medical information. This field is called “dynamic tattoos” and in recent years various proof-of-concept studies have demonstrated that tattoos can be used to “pick up changes in sodium, glucose, electrolytes or pH levels in animal models,” Labroots reported.
“We demonstrate the tattoos’ functionality for both quantitative and naked-eye UV sensing in porcine skin ex vivo, as well as in human skin in vivo. Solar freckles offer an alternative and complementary approach to self-monitoring UV exposure for the sake of skin cancer prevention,” the researchers explained in their ACS Nano article.
“Activated solar freckles provide a visual reminder to protect the skin, and their color disappears rapidly upon removal of UV exposure or application of topical sunscreen. The sensors are implanted in a minimally invasive procedure that lasts only a few seconds yet remain functional for months to years,” they added.
“These semipermanent tattoos provide an early proof-of-concept for long-term intradermal sensing nanomaterials that provide users with biomedically relevant information in the form of an observable color change,” the ATLAS researchers concluded.
“When you think about what a tattoo is, it’s just a bunch of particles that sit in your skin,” Carson Bruns, PhD, Assistant Professor, Laboratory for Emergent Nanomaterials, ATLAS Institute, Mechanical Engineering, told Technology.org. “Our thought is: What if we use nanotechnology to give these particles some function?”
The invisible tattoos Bruns and the ATLAS team created turn blue in the presence of harmful levels of ultraviolet radiation to inform wearers that their skin needs protection and to apply or reapply sunscreen.
The tattoo ink used for these tattoos contains a UV-activated dye inside of a plastic nano capsule that is less than a thousandth of a millimeter in size, or several sizes smaller than the width of a human hair. The capsules protect the dyes from wear and tear while allowing them to sense and respond to biochemical changes in the body. These tattoos are implanted into the skin using tattoo machines, much like getting a regular tattoo.
“I call them solar freckles because they’re like invisible freckles that are powered by sunshine,” Bruns told Inked, adding, “Millions of cases of preventable skin cancer are treated every year. I hope that the UV-sensitive tattoo will help us reduce the number of those cases by reminding people when their skin is exposed to unsafe levels of UV light.”
Dynamic Tattoos May Help People Lead Healthier Lives
One downside to these tattoos is that they only last a few months before they begin to degrade, requiring the wearer to get a “booster” tattoo.
The researchers hope that someday similar tattoo technologies will be applied to a wide variety of preventative and diagnostic applications. The goal is to enable people to detect health issues and allow them to lead healthier lives.
“We want to make tattoos that will allow you to, for example, sense things that you can’t currently sense,” Bruns told Inked. “Sometimes I joke that we want to make tattoos that give you superpowers.”
The ATLAS scientists imagine a future where tattoos can detect things like blood alcohol levels or high/low blood sugar levels or other changes in a person’s biochemistry.
“More generally, I hope that smart tattoos will help people stay healthy and more informed about their body, while also giving people new ways to express themselves creatively,” Bruns said.
Using Dynamic Tattoo to Detect Cancer
In 2018, a team of biologists created a tattoo comprised of engineered skin cells and an implantable sensor which could detect elevated blood calcium levels that are present in many types of cancers. These cancer-detecting tattoos were tested on living mice and would darken to notify researchers of potential problems.
“Nowadays, people generally go to the doctor only when the tumor begins to cause problems. Unfortunately, by that point it is often too late,” Martin Fussenegger, PhD, Professor of Biotechnology and Bioengineering at the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering (D-BSSE) of the ETH Zurich in Basel as well as at the University of Basel, told Medical News Today.
“For example, if breast cancer is detected early, the chance of recovery is 98%,” he continued. “However, if the tumor is diagnosed too late, only one in four women has a good chance of recovery.”
Though it appears that dynamic tattoos may be a functional and decorative way to track health, rigorous research and safety testing on human subjects will be required before clinical laboratories can set up diagnostic tattoo parlors in their offices.
Nevertheless, this concept demonstrates how different technologies under development may provide clinical laboratories with innovative and unusual diagnostic tools in the future.
The self-cleaning material has been proven to repel even the deadliest forms of antibiotic resistant (ABR) superbugs and viruses. This ultimate non-stick coating is a chemically treated form of transparent plastic wrap which can be adhered to surfaces prone to gathering germs, such as door handles, railings, and intravenous therapy (IV) stands.
“We developed the wrap to address the major threat that is posed by multi-drug resistant bacteria,” Leyla Soleymani, PhD, Associate Professor at McMaster University and one of the leaders of the study, told CNN. “Given the limited treatment options for these bugs, it is key to reduce their spread from one person to another.”
According to research published in the peer-reviewed Southern Medical Journal, “KPC-producing bacteria are a group of emerging highly drug-resistant Gram-negative bacilli causing infections associated with significant morbidity and mortality.”
Were those surfaces covered in this new bacterial-resistant
coating, life-threatening infections in hospital ICUs could be prevented.
Taking Inspiration from Nature
In designing their new anti-microbial wrap, McMaster researchers took their inspiration from natural lotus leaves, which are effectively water-resistant and self-cleaning thanks to microscopic wrinkles that repel external molecules. Substances that come in contact with surfaces covered in the new non-stick coating—such as a water, blood, or germs—simply bounce off. They do not adhere to the material.
The “shrink-wrap” is flexible, durable, and inexpensive to
manufacture. And, the researchers hope to locate a commercial partner to
develop useful applications for their discovery.
“We’re structurally tuning that plastic,” Soleymani told SciTechDaily. “This material gives us something that can be applied to all kinds of things.”
Industries Outside of Healthcare Also Would Benefit
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 2.8 million people get an antibiotic-resistant infection in the US each year. More than 35,000 people die from these infections, making it one of the biggest health challenges of our time and a threat that needs to be eradicated. This innovative plastic coating could help alleviate these types of infections.
And it’s not just for healthcare. The researchers said the coating could be beneficial to the food industry as well. The plastic surface could help curtail the accidental transfer of bacteria, such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria in food preparation and packaging, according to the published study.
“We can see this technology being used in all kinds of institutional and domestic settings,” Tohid Didar, PhD, Assistant Professor at McMaster University and co-author of the study, told SciTechDaily. “As the world confronts the crisis of anti-microbial resistance, we hope it will become an important part of the anti-bacterial toolbox.”
Clinical laboratories also are tasked with preventing the
transference of dangerous bacteria to patients and lab personnel. Constant
diligence in application of cleaning protocols is key. If this new anti-bacterial
shrink wrap becomes widely available, medical laboratory managers and
microbiologists will have a new tool to fight bacterial contamination.
Lab-on-skin is the latest concept to join the lab-on-a-chip, lab-in-a-needle, and lab-on-paper field, as researchers continue to seek ways to miniaturize medical laboratory tests
Move over, lab-on-a-chip and lab-on-paper. There’s a new diagnostic technology in research labs that is gaining credibility. It is called lab-on-skin technology and some scientists are quite excited about how it might be used for a variety of clinical purposes.
A recent story published in ACS Nano titled, “Lab-on-Skin: A Review of Flexible and Stretchable Electronics for Wearable Health Monitoring,” reviews the latest advancements in lab-on-skin technology. It provides an overview of different research initiatives incorporating lab-on-skin technologies.
From telehealth to precision medicine to point-of-care mobile devices, anatomic pathologist and clinical laboratories are about to be challenged with new diagnostic technologies. These technologies are intended to streamline the workflow between physicians and medical laboratories while improving access to patient data and medical laboratory test results.
Of all the mobile devices designed to support medical care, no technology may have more potential to change the pathology profession than nanotechnology-based diagnostic devices. Whether lab-on-a-chip, lab-in-a-needle, or lab-on-paper, these miniature laboratories are so small dozens can be carried in a pocket.
Now, researchers have demonstrated that even biomarkers within human skin can be tested by medical wearable devices. “Lab-on-skin” has entered the pathology vernacular.
Lab-on-Skin Constantly Measures Physiological Data
According to ACS Nano, lab-on-skin devices are small electronic patches worn directly on the skin that noninvasively measure a variety of physiological data. These flexible gadgets can interpret information including:
The image above from the ACS Nano article demonstrates various lab-on-skin devices, including: an NFC tattoo with a bare die chip mounted on an acrylic adhesive ﬁlm; a soft radio sensor with commercial chips encapsulated in a ﬂuid/ecoﬂex package; and, a sweat sensor on silicone foam. Each of these devices could be capable of delivering actionable diagnostic data to anatomic pathologists and clinical laboratories. (Image copyright: ACS Nano.)
Lab-on-skin technology can be utilized to read electrophysiological signals typically measured by electrodes placed on various parts of the body, such as:
Because it is the largest organ in the body, skin provides a perfect pathway to convey biological information originating from various parts of the body, such as inner organs, muscles, blood vessels, and the dermis and epidermis.
The ACS Nano article discusses advancements in the designs and materials used for lab-on-skin patches. In addition to the term “lab-on-skin,” these devices may also be referred to as electronic skin, epidermal electronics, and electronic tattoos. They have untapped potential in a variety of clinical applications, including:
For example, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have created an epidermal nanotechnology device that utilizes sensors and wireless interfaces to measure ultraviolet (UV) exposure, a risk factor for skin cancers.
“Our goal with this research is to establish a set of foundational materials and device designs for systems that can improve health outcomes by providing information on UV exposure,” John A. Rogers, PhD, and Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Professor of Chemistry told Nanowerk Spotlight.
Nanotechnology employs extremely small particles performed at the nanoscale (about 1 to 100 nanometers). This field is emerging as a vital element behind cutting-edge innovations in medicine and healthcare.
“We developed new chemistries that yield color changes that quantitatively relate to total exposure dose, separately in both the UV-A and UV-B regions of the solar spectrum,” explained Rogers. “Our formulations have the additional advantage that they provide soft, low modulus mechanics to enhance comfort and biocompatibility with the skin surface.”
Mini-Laboratory Devices Could Push Pathology Data to Clinical Laboratories
The combination of using lab-on-skin devices with nanotechnology can provide researchers and medical professionals a multifunctional and valuable tool for health monitoring and the diagnosis of diseases. However, more research and clinical studies are needed to establish the validity of using lab-on-skin devices in healthcare applications.
Nevertheless, clinical laboratories and pathology groups will be handling more data in the future, generated by these miniature laboratory devices. Their usefulness, especially in challenging healthcare environments, is only beginning to be fully discovered.
The Technion breathalyzer would give pathology groups and medical laboratories unprecedented ability to support physicians in diagnosing and treating cancers, chronic diseases, and other illnesses
Readers of Dark Daily know that several pathology research teams in America and the UK are developing breath analyzer tests that can detect everything from lung cancer to early-stage infections. Clinical laboratories will soon have a plethora of breath-related tests from which to choose. Now there’s a new kid on the block. A breathalyzer test that can detect up to 17 distinct cancerous, inflammatory, and neurological diseases!
Assuming the cost per test was at a competitive level to existing technologies, what would give this new diagnostic system appeal to physicians and patients alike is that it would be a non-invasive way to diagnose disease. Only a sample of the patient’s breath would be needed to perform the assays.
Researchers at the Israel Institute of Technology, or Technion, published the results of their study in ACS Nano, a monthly journal of the American Chemical Society devoted to “nanoscience and nanotechnology research at the interfaces of chemistry, biology, materials science, physics, and engineering.” (more…)