Getting a new tattoo is not just about looking cool (or making a decision you will regret several years later) – it can also save your life. At least that’s the idea behind a new electronic tattoo that can continuously and discreetly measure your blood pressure.
In an article published Monday in the journal Nature nanotechnology, A team from the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University developed a device that can be attached to the skin of the wrist and worn comfortably for up to 24 hours. It can continuously monitor blood pressure with incredible accuracy and can potentially help diagnose problems that have occurred and inform the treatment of patients with serious heart disease. Researchers hope that this will pave the way for a blood pressure monitor that does not require a cuff unit like a traditional bracelet.
“Blood pressure is an important metric,” Roozbeh Jafari, a professor of biomedical engineering at Texas A&M and co-author of the study, told The Daily Beast. “It gives us a holistic view of the entire cardiovascular system. But if you want to measure it, just one or a few measurements a day is not enough, and cuff-based solutions are impractical, uncomfortable and impractical.
In fact, when it comes to the world of blood pressure monitoring, having a cuffless device is the “holy grail,” Jafari said. This is because devices with cuffs are often uncomfortable to wear, and cardiac monitoring products such as smartwatches also tend to move too much around the wrist to provide accurate data.
That’s why the Texas team turned to graphene – a material similar to graphite pencils – to create a tattoo that can be applied directly over a person’s arteries in the wrists. Not only is it incredibly durable, but it is also the thinnest material in the world. This makes it perfect to use in an e-tattoo, as it does not let the user even feel it on the skin.
It is also applied just like a temporary tattoo: A piece of paper is placed over the spot on your wrist, which is then dabbed with a small amount of water. After a few seconds, the paper is removed, and vips – you have a new, smooth cyberpunk tattoo. Unfortunately, it is not quite enough to measure your heart rate yet.
“We have these circuits that we need to connect to the skin to get information about blood pressure,” Kaan Sel, an electrical and computer science researcher at Texas A&M and co-author of the study, told The Daily Beast. «The tattoo is the interface. Once the tattoos are transferred, it provides the reliable and long-term connection with the skin. “
The circuits lead to a small box of electronics that transmits the information to a computer, which uses machine learning to produce the biometric data. The whole system works by sending an electric current into the skin of your arm that allows it to detect changes in the volume of the arteries in the arm, ie changes in blood pressure.
“You have blood pumping through your arteries,” Dmitry Kireev, a bioelectronics researcher at UT in Austin and co-author of the study, told The Daily Beast. “This will change the volume of the arteries, and this is what we catch.”
Note, this is just a prototype. The team hopes to further develop the system so that it can be adapted to smartwatches, to provide much more accurate blood pressure readings. It will represent a massive improvement over today’s smartwatch technology that relies on an optical system to detect your heart rate – which is problematic for several reasons.
First, the optical system is based on the light reflection from your skin “but that light only needs so much,” said Sel. Those with darker skin tones also have a notoriously more difficult time with these systems.
The e-tattoo can lay the foundation for a commercial blood pressure monitor without a cuff that will allow patients to detect and send important biometric data to their doctors without having to be tied to a cumbersome machine. These data may include things like “muscle contractions, hydration, changes in tissue composition or even breathing,” according to Sel.