Electronic tattoos: health monitor printed on the skin

US scientists have developed a novel electronic tattoo that monitors body values.

A team of researchers in the laboratory of materials scientist John Rogers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has developed so-called "epidermal electronics" that can be applied to the body's skin like removable tattoos.

The method allows its user to wear health sensors at all times without them interfering with everyday activities, Technology Review reports in its online edition. The technology could also be used to monitor wound healing processes after surgical procedures. The prototype system consists of ultra-thin electrodes and the necessary sensor technology, a wireless power supply and suitable communication technology.

Previously, the researchers had worked with a thin elastomer on which the flexible components were mounted. "That was sufficient for normal indoor operation," Rogers says, "but it probably wouldn't hold up in the shower or swimming." For this reason, the materials scientist and his colleagues continued their research and developed their direct printing process, which makes the health monitor much more durable. "We found that you don't need the elastomer backing at all. You can use a stamping process to put the network of electronics directly on the skin surface."

The team was also able to show that spray-on patch systems that are already commercially available can be used to add an extra layer of protection to the sensor technology. This also more closely links the health monitor to the skin. "It's very robust," Rogers says. Without the elastomer backing, the system is also much thinner and conforms better to the skin's surface. After all, the current prototype system lasts up to two weeks before natural skin renewal processes cause it to slowly dissolve.