Joseph Wang, chair of nanoengineering at UC San Diego, first developed temporary tattoos that check glucose then created special ink that does basically the same job. UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering.
In a possible advance for diabetics, UC San Diego has created a way to measure glucose with a special ink that’s applied to the skin with an ordinary pen.
The “bio ink” causes a chemical reaction that reveals glucose levels which are then read by a small wearable sensor.
“This is a proof-of-concept step that could make it easier for diabetics to check their glucose,” said Joseph Wang, chair of UC San Diego’s Department of Nanoengineering and leader of the project.
“We will integrate the ink and sensor, and hope to have a prototype later this year. We want to be able to use smartphones to read out what the ink is measuring.”
Wang’s team also developed a novel ink that can be written on plant leaves to help reveal the presence of pollution. The research is part of the university’s broad efforts to develop small, wireless sensors that can be used for everything from monitoring health and fitness to pollution to explosives and nerve agents. Much of the work is being done through UC San Diego’s Center for Wearable Sensors, which was created last year, largely in response to growing consumer interest in activity sensors like Fitbit and smartwatches that handle email and texting.
The university’s efforts are led by Wang, an internationally known engineer who recently tested a wearable tattoo that measures the glucose located in between skin cells. The tattoo is meant to be an evolutionary step away from more invasive methods of monitoring glucose. So is the new ink, which posed difficult engineering problems.
“We had to find chemicals for the ink that would not harm people or plants,” said Amay J. Bandodkar, a UC San Diego doctoral student who is Wang’s lead collaborator on the project.
The research team found that they could place the ink inside an ordinary pen and apply it to skin and leaves by writing. The ink is erasable.
“You just wipe it off and use the pen again,” Wang said. “You could do it hundreds of times.”