e-tatoo

At the frontiers of digital and biology, tomorrow we'll tattoo circuits on our body

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Imagine your body adorned with flashing light tattoos and a sophisticated circuit network design. Cyberpunk science fiction, you might say. And yet, these new tattoos are coming: they'll give us personalized health advice in real time. They will connect our biology to the web, and put the internet of things at our fingertips. They'll enhance our five senses, and maybe even give us new ones.
 
It's a long way from the time of the multimillennial tribal tattoo. The one discovered in 1991 on Otzi, a mummy kept frozen in the Austrian glacier of Hauslabjoch, brought the practice back to 5300 years ago. Since then, the tattoo has undergone multiple avatars, ornaments of the sailors then of the big tough guys, it has entered the skin of the greatest number and has become a fashion phenomenon. According to a survey of theIfopIn France, 14 % of French people are tattooed, including 17 % of women. But these tattoos marked with ink in the secret of our skin will soon give way to biocompatible materials that allow electronics to merge seamlessly with the body. The techniques exist, they are being developed for rapid development, and their expansion is made possible by the arrival on the market of new 3D printers.
 

3D printers of a new kind

We have been familiar with 3D printers for a few years now. They allow us to shape objects of all kinds, made of plastic or metal. When they arrived, we were already talking about revolution. But new 3D printers are appearing and they can change a lot of things in the world we live in.
These new types of printers operate on "functional" materials such as electronic materials, soft polymers and even biological materials such as cells. These devices digitize in 3D the surface to be printed, which can be an organ or a nerve, for example. This makes it possible to print anatomically specific biomedical devices. Nothing could be easier than to print an electronic device directly on the skin, a device that adapts to any complex anatomical surface.
 
Michael McAlpine, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota, has published an study in the magazine Advanced Materials in which he explains the different ways of printing directly on the skin. According to him, the first people interested are the military. The army is working on autonomous devices, embedded in the soldier's pack in the field, that allow them to "print" any type of device: life-saving devices on the body, such as a solar panel on the wrist or a chemical or biological warfare sensor on an arm. Such a device would cost only 400 $, making it as widely available as possible.
 
Applications in the medical field and particularly in emergency response are promising. Professor McAlpine explained that right now, " if there is an accident, the patient must wait at the scene of the accident for the ambulance to arrive. Then the ambulance must take him to the hospital. It may take half an hour or more before actual treatment takes place. But if you could just take the printer to the patient and print a biomedical device directly on the patient at the scene of the accident, that would be a complete change of scene. ".
 
For the promoters of these technologies, the real issue is the consumer market. In the very near future, it will be possible to print your next iPhone or electronic watch directly on your wrist. No doubt about it for Michael McAlpine: " many of us will want to have all kinds of flashing lights and electronic devices printed on our skin ".
 
Photo: © Dust/Futurism, 2018
 

Welcome to the post-computer age

These technologies are leading us straight into the post-computer age, the era where the fusion of electronics and biology will occur. In the medical field, this fusion holds out the prospect of revolutionary possibilities. Professor McAlpine enthused: " We have already published research on peripheral nerve repair. We also work on central nerve repair, or spinal cord repair. Currently, there are all sorts of different approaches to treating spinal cord injury, ranging from the integration of scaffolding and stem cells to the introduction of biochemical molecules and gradients to promote regeneration. Our printing tool provides an all-in-one solution, because you can print a scaffold, and you can print cells in that scaffold. You can also print biochemical signals and electronic signals inside the scaffold to stimulate them. And then, of course, you can adapt the scaffold to be anatomically specific and anatomically accurate for the patient. Having an all-in-one tool that combines all the existing technologies used to treat these injuries could have huge implications for patients.. »
 
A particularly powerful restorative medicine is in the offing. But also a medicine that increases capacity. By fusing cells with electronics, it is possible to improve most organs, especially sensory organs: better hearing and sight will be possible tomorrow thanks to these hybrid technologies.
 
In the meantime, how about getting a tattoo of the connection to UP', your favourite magazine, directly on your forearm? Wouldn't that be convenient?!
 
 
Sources: Futurism, Advanced Materials, Advanced Functional Materials, Nano Letters, Advanced Materials Technologies
 

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