How a Tattoo Could Save Your Life

Once reserved for sailors and rock stars, tattoos have become so mainstream, you may soon be seeing them in hospitals.

By Alex Hutchinson Reader’s Digest Canada, January 2012

Scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have created high-tech temporary tattoos that can measure heartbeats, brainwaves and muscle activity with the goal of transmitting the information wirelessly to health-care practitioners. The key breakthrough is the development of ultrathin flexible microchips that cling to the skin so naturally that they feel invisible, says lead researcher John Rogers. Premature babies will be among the first beneficiaries once the technology is approved, Rogers says, since they are often too small for the bulky electrodes and wires currently needed to monitor their vital signs. The tattoos will also allow for less intrusive monitoring of sleeping patients. The team is currently fine-tuning prototypes to enable fully wireless data transmission.

Though the project is exciting, the long-term goal is grander: "It's really to blur the distinction between man-made electronics and the body," Rogers says. "We think that's the future."

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