The therapeutic powers of tattoos on the human psyche are well known, but what if you are told that tattoos also possess medical diagnostic abilities? It is natural that you may scoff at the pronouncement, but stay with me, here.

Researchers at MIT Media Labs are working on biosensor fluids that can be used as ink for tattooing and apparently for medical purposes, as well. The fluids in question are far from ordinary dyes; they possess certain properties that enable them to react to variations in body fluids and depict those reactions by changing their colours, once injected into the epidermal layer of the skin.

The research, quite ominously named DermalAbyss, is the brainchild of MIT researchers – Katia Vega, Nick Barry, Xin Liu and Viirj Kan – and Harvard Medical School Students – Ali Yetisen and Nan Jian – who are collaborating with the media lab. The group has already tested four biosensors on body fluids and the findings have been nothing short of interesting.

“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,” the researchers declared.

So how does this quirky piece of development in biotechnology affect the field of healthcare? If you take into account the words of the researchers, this innovation can be a game changer. Although they have denied the possibility of it being developed as a product anytime soon in the future, the research has revealed just how beneficial this innovation could be. Diagnostics is one of the areas in healthcare that can reap the benefit of the biosensor tattoos.

“The Dermal Abyss creates a direct access to the compartments in the body and reflects inner metabolic processes in a shape of a tattoo. It could be used for applications in continuous monitoring such as medical diagnostics, quantified self, and data encoding in the body,” the researchers explained. Citing another example, they elaborated on how diabetic patients can simply monitor their glucose levels on their skin by taking note of the tattoo’s changing colour, instead of pricking themselves time and again.

With further advancement in biotechnology, it is more than likely that our body could be turned into an “interactive display”, which would reflect the innner workings of our body on our skin and keep us constantly informed about the minutest variations taking place inside us. Imagine your tattoo blinking red at the sign of, say an unusual speeding up of heart rate, or going green to indicate a sudden bout of anxiety. All this may sound a bit fantastical, just like Bilbo’s sword glowing blue at the sign of orcs, but it did save his skin a couple of times.

Tattoos, however, are not new to therapeutic and medical associations. They are considered to be immensely potent aesthetic artefacts that enable you to cope up with loss, instil confidence, patch up your emotions, encourage you to stand up for what you believe, remind you what you stand for, or simply moor your ever-drifting soul. Besides these, tattoos have been historically used by civilizations across the world as a tool for healing diseases. Otzi, the 5,300 year old mummified iceman, had several tattoos on his body and surprisingly most of it were on places which are notably Chinese acupuncture points. Lars Krutak, a tattoo anthropologist, has encountered a number of tribes that practice therapeutic tattooing for either their proven or perceived benefits. With a long history of therapeutic power, both physical and emotional, DermalAbyss appears to be a step in the right direction to further consolidate the bond between the healing powers and aesthetic pleasures of tattooing.

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