Success in research: monitoring chronic diseases with tattoos

Tattoos can monitor different biomarkers

Wouldn't it be beneficial if tattoos could help monitor chronic diseases such as diabetes and kidney disease in real time? Researchers have now developed tattoos that change color when blood sugar, albumin, or pH changes.

In the current study by the Technical University of Munich, the researchers tested newly developed tattoos, which change the color under certain circumstances, which should facilitate the treatment and monitoring of various diseases. The results of the study were published in the journal "Angewandte Chemie".

Optimized monitoring of the concentration of biomarkers

The newly developed tattoos have not yet been tested on humans, but they have already changed color tones on pieces of pig skin when the concentration of important biomarkers has been adjusted. This is an exciting first step that may lead to real tattoos in the future that patients and doctors will use to monitor chronic diseases such as diabetes and kidney disease in real time, the study's authors report. With the help of smartphone images of the tattoos, the researchers were able to precisely estimate the concentrations of the biomarkers.

Fluctuations in which values ​​were displayed?

Although not all dyes are reversible yet, this could represent a transformative technology for personalized medicine based on decorative body modification practices. Modifying the body by injecting pigments is a more than 4,000 year old practice, the research team emphasizes. Functional cosmetic technology has been developed that combines tattoo art and colorimetric biosensors. Dermal tattoo sensors acted as diagnostic indicators by showing color changes within the visible spectrum in response to fluctuations in pH, glucose and albumin levels.

What can changed values ​​indicate?

The three biomarkers used were chosen because they are often indications that there is a health problem. Albumin is a protein in the blood plasma, and low levels may indicate kidney or liver problems, while high levels may indicate heart problems. Glucose needs to be closely monitored to treat diabetes, which affects the body's ability to metabolize sugar. Changes in blood pH (acidosis at low pH, alkalosis at high pH) can be caused by a number of health problems.

More research is needed

The team developed a dye that could detect changes in each of these biomarkers in the interstitial fluid. This liquid emerges from the capillaries and fills the spaces between the cells. When the biomarkers in the interstitial fluid in the pieces of pork skin were changed, the colors of the tattoos also changed. The next step is likely to involve testing the tattoos on live animals to detect any adverse reactions caused by the ink. The applications of the sensors can also be extended to the detection of electrolytes, proteins, pathogens and dehydration of patients, the researchers report in a press release. The developed dermal sensors could be used in medical diagnostics to monitor a wide range of metabolite biomarkers. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Dr. Ali K. Yetisen, Rosalia Moreddu, Sarah Seifi, Nan Jiang, Katia Vega et al .: Dermal Tattoo Biosensors for Colorimetric Metabolite Detection, in Angewandte Chemie (query: July 22, 2019), Angewandte Chemie
  • Art of diagnosis for the skin, in Angewandte Chemie (query: 22.07.2019), Angewandte Chemie

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