Are medical tattoos the future of MedTech?
Tattoos that are both aesthetic and functional? Sign us up!
When we think of tattoos, we mostly associate them with self-expression, milestone markers, permanence, and maybe even healing, but perhaps almost never with doctors, scientists, and science. medicine. However, tattoos and medicine are not exactly strangers to each other. Enter medical tattoo.
The history of medical tattooing
Tattooing is an ancient art form used to mark the skin with pigments deposited in the upper layers of the skin. Many civilizations around the world have used tattooing for various purposes, both aesthetic and ceremonial. In fact, one of the oldest human bodies we know of today also has tattoos!
Affectionately known as Ötzi the Iceman, the nearly 5,300-year-old natural mummy from the Ötztal Alps is also the owner of the oldest known tattoos in the world. With a grand total of 61 individual marks on 19 parts of his body, Ötzi is quite heavily tattooed. You can assume the process was too long and painful to have been purely cosmetic. The marks consist of simple lines and crosses made by driving soot pigment into the skin with shallow incisions. Due to the clustering of these marks near Ötzi’s joints and lower back, which are places on Ötzi’s body that show deterioration, researchers believe the tattoos may have been some kind of orthopedic treatment. or primitive acupuncture. In short, the earliest tattoos we know of are most likely medical tattoos!
Tattoos in modern medicine
The use of tattoos in medicine is not as uncommon as one might think. Some medical procedures, like colonoscopies and radiation therapy, use small freckle-like tattoos to mark spots for treatment or indicate abnormalities that might need further investigation. These tattoos help with long-term treatments by ensuring accuracy and preventing marks from fading over time.
Another form of medical tattooing that is gaining in importance is paramedic or restorative tattooing, which is a highly specialized and advanced form of permanent makeup. Although this procedure is primarily cosmetic, it can greatly help patients recover mentally and socially from treatments, illnesses, and other circumstances that have left their appearance physically deformed or disfigured. With improved tattoo tools and techniques, tattoo paramedics can restore delicate skin and scar tissue to a healthy appearance, making it seamless with the rest of the body.
Treatment can be performed on vitiligo, burn scars, upper surgery scars, post-mastectomy breasts, hair loss, cleft lips, and even 3D reproductions of nails and nipples.
Electronic Tattoos: How Tattoos Can Transform MedTech
Medical tattoos as we know them today are quite simple and nothing special on their own. However, the materials they are made of can make all the difference to the future of medical technology (MedTech).
Carson J. Bruns, a nanotechnician and assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Colorado, leads research into the engineering of special tattoo inks that can be used to turn tattoos into intradermal indicators for various aspects of health . In his Ted Talk, Bruns demonstrated how the color-changing inks they developed can pick up changes in the body (like sugar levels, temperature, UV exposure, etc.) and provide a sort of naked eye indicator embedded in its own skin. He also talked about research into developing tattoos that can conduct electricity with tattooed patches or conductive wires. These could be the next big step towards integrating technology into the human body, making it possible to more efficiently maintain and manage electronic biomedical devices, such as insulin pumps or the recharging of pacemaker batteries. (which would otherwise need to be replaced every five to ten years with an invasive procedure).
In August this year, scientists at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Seoul developed an electronic tattoo ink made of liquid metal and carbon nanotubes with 3D printing and circuit printing technology. The researchers plan to embed the e-ink into a wireless chip that will be attached to the body to track vital biomarkers, such as blood pressure, heart rate, hydration and blood sugar. Unlike conventional tattoos, these electronic tattoos only stay on the body for a few days and must be applied to damp skin. One of the main advantages of this technology over traditional medical devices is its flexibility. Since they are made of lightweight materials without batteries, you can bend, bend and twist them to fit your body.
The technology involved in transforming modern medical tattoos into an Internet of Things (IoT) device is still in its infancy and therefore not yet commercially available. However, ongoing breakthroughs and research may assure us of an inevitable future where tattoos are not only works of art valued for their form and aesthetics, but they are also functional tools to enhance the way we interact with health care.
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