Tattoo Enables mHealth Monitoring

A team within the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Northeasern University is developing a technology that would allow for a simple, less painful, and more accurate means of measuring quantities of important medical indicators in patients, including glucose levels in diabetics and blood oxygen levels in anemic patients. Additionally, with the project’s combined technologies of …   Read More

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A team within the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Northeasern University is developing a technology that would allow for a simple, less painful, and more accurate means of measuring quantities of important medical indicators in patients, including glucose levels in diabetics and blood oxygen levels in anemic patients.

Additionally, with the project’s combined technologies of a nanoparticle “tattoo” and a modified iPhone, this new product could be monitored remotely, eliminating the need for separate devices or extra trips to the doctor.

To use this system, patients would have nanopolymer droplets composed of a fluorescent dye, specialized target-binding molecules and a charge-neutralizing molecule injected into their skin, which would create an invisible “tattoo” that fluoresces under specific LED lighting.

This “tattoo” allows the amount of a target molecule to be quantified because as its molecules bind to their specified targets, they release ions that change the color of the tattoo’s fluorescence under the LED lighting. Therefore, the amount of change in fluorescence indicates the quantity of a target molecule that is present.

In order to make this method a practical option for patients, the team has developed a means of making it portable as an accessory to an iPhone. This was accomplished by creating a case for the iPhone that contains a nine-volt battery, filter for the camera lens, and three LEDs . Therefore, by pressing the phone to the patient’s skin to prevent interference from external light, the camera filter captures the light emitted by the tattoo during exposure to the LEDs, while removing the LED light itself.

Currently, these photos must be exported to a computer for analysis, but the team hopes to ultimately create an iPhone application that will measure and record the levels of target molecule indicated by the image within the phone itself. Another addition to the convenience of the phone the team would like to make is the removal of the bulky nine-volt battery from the case in favor of utilizing the iPhone to power the device on its own.

According to Heather Clark, the team leader, other additions are hopefully in store for the project. Although this project was originally aimed at creating a means of glucose testing for diabetics that didn’t require a finger-prick , it has since been expanded to include sodium, and Clark says that the technique has the potential to be extended further to track other important biomarkers. This could potentially include measuring the amount of drug in a patient’s blood to decide on dosage or quantifying how much of a gas, such as oxygen, is in the bloodstream to monitor lung function, and could place this technology in a prominent spot within the mHealth industry.

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