UC San Diego glucose tattoo

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego have created a temporary tattoo that measures glucose levels. This noninvasive sticker presents an attractive alternative to the customary process that require finger pricks to extract a tiny drop of blood.

The sensor works using electrophoresis. A mild electrical current is sent through the skin, which attracts ions in the body’s fluids to be attracted to one electrode. The sensor reads the strength of the electrical charge, and the researchers have been able to accurately correlate these readings to actual blood glucose measurements. It takes about 10 minutes to get a reading, and the patch can be worn all day, so it is possible to get more readings throughout the day than patients normally get with the finger stick approach. The patches will cost only pennies apiece to manufacture, and so would not be expensive to replace on a regular basis. Other similar devices have been tested, but caused skin irritation in the subjects. The UC San Diego design uses a much lower electrical current, and their test subjects reported no discomfort with the patch.

The sensor could be used to monitor glucose levels in subjects who do not have diabetes in order to gain a broader understanding of the condition and its causes. The researchers see other potential applications for this technology. It could be used to monitor other other chronic conditions, such as kidney disease, or to detect drugs or alcohol. It also might be used to deliver drugs through the skin.