Blog | Tuesday, August 16, 2011

QD: News Every Day--Tattoos evolve from art into medicine

Clunky medical monitoring devices may one day no longer be needed, as scientists hone in on smaller and more elastic materials that would stick on the skin and carry the body's signals to monitors and could even control devices.

An article in Science describes the devices and their potential uses: "For example, a patient who may have heart disease is usually required to wear a bulky monitor for a prolonged period (typically a month) in order to capture the abnormal yet rare cardiac events. The current best electrodes are gel-coated adhesive pads. Many people, particularly those who have sensitive skins, will develop a rash, and the electrode locations have to be constantly moved around, interrupting monitoring. Clinical physicians strongly desire more compact and even wireless health monitoring devices."

But an electronic skin can be made through a transfer printing process that creates flexible versions of high-performance semiconductors. The paper's author compares them to a child's temporary tattoo in this in a 12-minute podcast, and CNN picked up on that theme. (There is a 30-second commercial starting the video.)

As it turns out, there are other uses for tattoos in medicine. After mastectomies, women are opting for full chest tattoos if they are unable to have reconstructive surgery, or if they want to hide scar tissue. One artist's example is here, although any number of tattoo artists specifically advertise the service to breast cancer survivors, or are willing to sketch out pink ribbons on relatives.

And, a tattoo of a biohazard symbol has been adopted by some HIV-positive men to signal their illness to others, potentially helping with prevention. HIV-positive people discuss how the tattoos help them deal with the illness.