The E Tattoo is the future of healthcare technology – now. Powered by Northrop Grumman

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Medical devices such as pacemakers, insulin pumps, or heart monitors provide vital monitoring, but they can get in the way. On the flip side, the newer portable healthcare devices are so thin and flexible that patients might even forget they’re wearing them.

What is an E tattoo?

Electronic tattoos (also called electronic tattoos or digital tattoos) are similar to children’s temporary tattoos – you moisten them, hold them against your skin, and then they stick for a few days or up. ‘you wipe them off. While children’s tattoos are just decorative, medical tattoos can monitor important biomarkers such as heart rate, blood pressure, hydration, or blood sugar.

An electronic tattoo can be made up of flexible electronic components such as a conductive ink that can track important information about the wearer. According to Carnegie Mellon University, these tattoos are made using a liquid metal alloy to print ultra-thin circuits. Just like a child’s decorative tattoo, you need to moisten it to apply it to the skin. Unlike traditional medical devices, these tattoos have properties similar to lightweight fabrics – they conform to any shape and still work even if you bend, bend, twist, or stretch them. It’s like having a smart bandage, or the human body equivalent of IoT.

Digital tattoos are only possible due to new developments in 3D printing and circuit printing technologies. The medical futurist explained that digital tattoos can be made of materials such as gold nanowires, graphene, or various polymers with a rubber backing. When the tattoo is attached to the skin, tiny electrodes can record information about the wearer and transmit it to smartphones or other connected devices. They could eventually replace other wearable technologies as they will be more precise due to the direct and constant contact with the skin. In addition, they can operate without batteries as they can receive energy through electrophysiological processes. For example, Technological networks have described portable healthcare devices powered by the piezoelectric effect, which means that they can generate an electrical charge in response to applied mechanical stress.

Applications for portable healthcare devices

Much like traditional medical devices, wearable healthcare devices can track biomarkers that help patients and physicians monitor critical health conditions. These small, non-invasive devices could allow health experts to monitor and diagnose problems with the heart rhythm (arrhythmia), heart activities of premature babies, sleep disturbances and brain activities, according to Futuristic Medical. They are as easy to wear as an adhesive bandage, but instead of covering a wound, they constantly monitor patients. They could even send alerts to medical systems. For example, if a patient’s heart rate becomes critical, the device can automatically call an ambulance and transmit data to emergency medical personnel.

Here are three examples of this innovative healthcare technology, detailed by Medical Futurist.

  1. Massachusetts-based company MC10 has created a digital tattoo that can monitor movement, muscle performance, or heart activity. The device uses stretchable metal interconnects and rubbery polymers that form a system capable of “sensing, measuring, analyzing and communicating information” about the wearer. It is thinner than a human hair.
  2. Researchers at Harvard and MIT have developed color-changing tattoos called Dermal Abyss, which can track dehydration and glucose levels in people with diabetes. Tattoos use special inks that can measure the concentration of glucose, sodium, and pH in the skin. For example, the ink color “intensifies as the wearer’s sodium levels rise, which is often a sign of dehydration,” or changes from green to brown as glucose levels rise, which could be used by diabetics to monitor their blood sugar.
  3. South Korean researchers have created a blood sugar monitoring patch that goes a step further to also deliver medication. A team from Seoul National University has developed sensors that can detect body temperature and the pH / chemistry of sweat in people with type 2 diabetes. The device transmits the data to a smartphone app that determines the correct amount of medication based on the sweat condition of the wearer. Then a small array of needles in the patch inject the medicine directly into the person’s body.

Prospects for portable medical devices

As healthcare technology gets smaller and smarter, wearable devices like electronic tattoos could minimize the ways in which essential medical devices interfere with a patient’s life. Most e tattoos are still in the research and development stage. Ultimately, these devices could be less invasive than traditional methods, while being just as precise and reliable as current devices. Plus, they look pretty cool, which could mean more people will want to wear these life-saving devices.


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