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Do-it-yourself medicine delivery with microneedle tattoos

What's New? | September 26, 2022 | By:

The tiny patches are painless and need to be pressed for less than 15 minutes to deliver their imprint. Photo: Song Li, Georgia Tech.

Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) have reported the development of a microneedle patch that can be self-administered and painlessly deposit a tattoo onto skin within minutes. The technology is initially proposed for simple human medical or animal uses, but a number of cosmetic uses may be possible in the future.

Microneedle technology has been available for a few years. Researchers have proposed various uses for the patches including delivering vaccines and insulin or measuring alcohol and glucose levels in real time. 

Mark Prausnitz, who has been working with microneedle patches for several years, wondered whether the technology could be used to administer painless tattoos. “While some people are willing to accept the pain and time required for a tattoo, we thought others might prefer a tattoo that is simply pressed onto the skin and does not hurt,” he says.

The researchers essentially fabricated a number of microneedle patches with simple designs and engineered the needles to deliver tattoo ink. Each tiny needle acts like a single pixel of an image, and dissolves within minutes of being pressed into skin.

This preliminary test of the technology demonstrated a few simple applications on rodent models. So basic images such as numbers or a heart shape were found to effectively imprint into skin. The researchers also tested different types of ink, such as UV-sensitive tattoos that were essentially invisible in normal light but appear when illuminated under ultraviolet light.

Initial uses for the technology proposed by the researchers include medical applications, such as tiny tattoos communicating blood type or medical conditions. Other more immediate uses could be in veterinarian contexts to note an animal’s vaccination status.

Perhaps the most compelling uses are more future-focused. Currently the patches offer nowhere near the resolution necessary to compete with modern tattoo art. However, if that resolution could be improved in the future, and a simple way to print out these patches could be developed, then anyone could hypothetically design their own tattoo, print out a patch and stick it on.

This painless future of self-administered tattoos could even include temporary forms of ink designed to degrade after several months or years, making microneedle tattoo patches quick, easy, and reversible. The new study was published in the journal iScience.

Source: Georgia Tech

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