One day, in the not so distant future because it's actually being used in a testing environment today, people will use invisible nano-tattoos to give doctors an instant snapshot of their body's inner workings.
The prototype, developed by Heather Clark of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Northeastern University, consists of a special nanoparticle solution injected into the skin. Once "installed," the solution can be scanned by a specially modified iPhone (pictured), which makes the solution fluoresce:
Once in the skin, the sensor molecules attract their target because they have the opposite charge. Once the target chemical is taken up, the sensor is forced to release ions in order to maintain an overall neutral charge, and this changes the fluorescence of the tattoo when it is hit by light. The more target molecules there are in the patient's body, the more the molecules will bind to the sensors, and the more the fluorescence changes.
How is this helpful? Well, for example, an anemic patient could track their blood oxygen levels based on how the particles are glowing and reacting with substances in their body. On the sports side of things, an athlete could scan their arm mid-game and quickly check whether or not their sodium levels are low to prevent dehydration. Lastly, diabetes patients, always on the lookout for less invasive glucose monitoring methods, could use the technology in lieu of a finger prick.
Clark also believes the test can be easily modified to encompass all manner of biomarkers. Some may quiver a bit at the invasiveness or Gattaca-ness of it all, but I just see convenience. Anything can be abused. This technology has real value. [Technology Review]