Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed low-cost, painless, and bloodless tattoos that can be self-administered and have many applications, from medical alerts to tracking neutered animals to cosmetics.
Tattoos are used in medicine to cover up scars, guide repeated cancer radiation treatments, or restore nipples after breast surgery. Tattoos typically use large needles to puncture repeatedly into the skin to get a good image, a time-consuming and painful process. The Georgia Tech team has developed microneedles that are smaller than a grain of sand and are made of tattoo ink encased in a dissolvable matrix. Because the microneedles are made of tattoo ink, they deposit the ink in the skin very efficiently. In this way, the microneedles can be pressed into the skin just once and then dissolve, leaving the ink in the skin after a few minutes without bleeding. Although most microneedle patches for pharmaceuticals or cosmetics have dozens or hundreds of microneedles arranged in a square or circle, microneedle patch tattoos imprint a design that can include letters, numbers, symbols, and images. By arranging the microneedles in a specific pattern, each microneedle acts like a pixel to create a tattoo image in any shape or pattern. The researchers even created patches sensitive to environmental factors such as light or temperature changes, where the tattoo will only appear with ultraviolet light or higher temperatures. This provides patients with privacy, revealing the tattoo only when desired.
Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA
The technology offers viable cosmetic options for people who want an aesthetic tattoo without risk of infection, or the pain associated with traditional tattoos. Microneedle patch tattoos can also be used to encode information in the skin of animals.
Principal Investigator Mark Prausnitz has co-founded a company called Micron Biomedical that is developing microneedle patch technology, bringing it further into clinical trials, commercializing it, and ultimately making it available to patients.