E-tattoo can monitor health, store data and deliver drugs

Ultra-thin sticky patches packed with electronics, sometimes known as e-skin or e-tattoos, could someday track our health and deliver drugs at exactly the right moment.

Researchers at the University of Texas-Austin have taken a step closer to that future by combining many features of existing e-tattoos to create a version that can both monitor health and deliver drugs. The team says it is the first patch that can also store data, which can then be uploaded to a computer.

The patch is just 0.003 millimeters thick — far thinner than a piece of human hair. It’s capable of sensing movement and vital signs like temperature via tiny sensors. It also contains RAM for storage.

The Austin team believes the patch could someday be of use to people with epilepsy or Parkinson’s disease. It could also be used to monitor patients after they leave the hospital or deliver drugs over long periods of time.

Unfortunately, the tattoo can’t yet operate on its own, according to Nature. To support the memory feature, it still needs to be wired to a power supply and data transmitter. Researchers have already miniaturized both technologies, but no current solutions are flexible enough to be integrated into an e-skin patch. Wirelessly transmitting the data it collects would also be challenging.

“It’s a pretty complicated system to integrate onto a piece of tattoo material,” study co-author Nanshu Lu said to Nature. “It’s still pretty far away.”