Tooth Tattoo Diagnoses Illness and Alerts Doctors

By Kristen Philipkoski on at

Scientists have developed a sensor that could be tattooed onto your tooth, diagnose an infection, and transmit that information to medical professionals without you having to go to the doctor.

It could come in handy for military personnel in the field to determine whether a wound has become infected, or in hospitals where patients with weakened immune systems are extra vulnerable to bacteria.

Michael McAlpine and his team at Princeton University created the remote chemical sensor starting with graphene, a one-atom-thick layer of carbon. Onto that they incorporated a peptide that had to have a dual function: stick to the graphene and detect bacteria at the single cell level. They found a peptide rich in "aromatic residues," which are apparently sticky, and combined that with another one they isolated from a tropical frog that's super sensitive to three specific bacteria. An RFID incorporated into all of that can communicate alerts about an infection.

McAlpine hopes to commercialise the device. But in this iteration, the whole shebang would likely be scrubbed away as soon as you brushed your teeth. The scientists emphasise that we should focus on concept over functionality at this point. But in lieu of some seriously nasty breath and inevitable tooth decay, seems like this might work better embedded on a non-biological object? Though I'm sure if the researchers can pack all that into a mere tattoo, they can also figure out how to make it stay on for a spell. [Ubergizmo, RSC, Nature Communications]

Image credit: McAlpine Research Group