Getting a new tattoo doesn’t just mean looking cool (or making a decision you’ll regret years later) – it can also save your life. At least, that’s the idea behind a new electronic tattoo that can continuously and unobtrusively measure your blood pressure.
In a paper published Monday in the journal Nanotechnology of nature, a team from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Texas A&M has 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, which potentially helps in diagnosing problems and informing about 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 cuffs like a traditional armband.
“Blood pressure is an important indicator,” 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 inconvenient, inconvenient and impractical.
In fact, when it comes to the world of blood pressure monitoring, owning a device without a cuff is the “holy grail”, said Jafari. This is because cufflinks are often uncomfortable to wear, and heart-monitoring products, such as smartwatches, also tend to move around the wrist too much to provide accurate data.
That’s why the Texas team turned to graphene – a material similar to graphite pencils – to make a tattoo that can be applied directly to a person’s arteries in the joints. Not only is it incredibly durable, but it is also the thinnest material in the world. This makes it perfect for use in e-tattoos as it allows the user not to feel it on their skin either.
It is also applied just like a temporary tattoo: a piece of paper is placed over the place on your wrist, which is then smeared with a small amount of water. After a few seconds, the paper is removed and voila — you have a sleek new cyberpunk tattoo. Unfortunately, it is still not enough to measure your heart rate.
“We have these circuits that we have to connect to the skin to get information about blood pressure,” Kaan Sel, a researcher in electrical engineering and computing at Texas A&M and co-author of the study, told the Daily Beast. “A tattoo is an interface. When tattoos are transferred, it gives a reliable and long-term connection with the skin.
The car leads to a small box of electronics that transmits information to a computer, which uses machine learning to produce biometric data. The whole system works by sending electricity to the skin of your hand, which allows it to detect changes in the volume of arteries in your hand, or changes in blood pressure.
“You have blood pumping through the arteries,” Dmitry Kireyev, a bioelectronics researcher at UT Austin and co-author of the study, told the Daily Beast. “This will change the volume of the arteries and that’s what we’re discovering.”
Keep in mind, it’s just a prototype. The team hopes to further refine the system so that it can adapt to smartwatches, to allow much more accurate blood pressure readings. That would be a huge improvement over current smartwatch technology that relies on an optical system to detect your heart rate – which is problematic for a number of reasons.
First of all, the optical system is based on the reflection of light from your skin, “but that light penetrates only that much,” said Sel. Those with darker skin tones also have significantly harder time with these systems.
An e-tattoo could lay the groundwork for a commercial cuff-free blood pressure monitor that will allow patients to discover and send vital biometric data to their doctors without having to be tied to a bulky machine. These data may include things like “muscle contractions, hydration, changes in tissue composition or even breathing,” says Sel.
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