This Temporary Tattoo Can Monitor Your Blood Alcohol Level


Non-invasive devices have now come in vogue as many people fear needles or faint at the sight of a syringe of their own blood. After the non-invasive way of monitoring blood glucose levels of diabetics, US researchers have taken another step in biomedical engineering: they have created a supple, tattoo-like sensor that will track alcohol intake of the user and will be most beneficial to doctors and the police.

Some of you might know that transdermal alcohol trackers are not a novel concept. Police have been using it to monitor the movements of DUI (Driving Under Influence) offenders but they are much like anklets. Recently, they evolved into devices that are more consumer-friendly and monitor alcohol levels in blood, constantly updating the data on intake and even ring your phone to indicate when you have had enough.

Credit: UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering
Credit: UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering


A team of scientists from the University of California, San Diego, has made a flexible sensor/ tattoo that they claim can precisely monitor alcohol levels in blood in real-time and send readings to your laptop or smartphone. The sensor sticks to the skin like a tattoo and detects the alcohol levels in sweat after just 15 minutes of dermal (skin) application.

How Does it Work?

The tattoo contains screen-printed electrodes along with a small patch that contains the drug pilocarpine. Pilocarpine is used to treat glaucoma and dry mouth as its function is to draw out saliva and sweat from the skin. After sweat is drawn out, it interacts with the electrodes in tattoo-coated alcohol oxidase. Following chemical reaction occurs.

Alcohol in sweat + Alcohol Oxidase —> Hydrogen Peroxide

Release of H2O2 is detected electrochemically – as electrical signals are picked up by the tattoo.

A screen-printed circuit board is also attached to the sensor magnetically, acting as both the power source and the Bluetooth for the patch and the data collected is relayed wirelessly to a laptop or phone.

(Credit: UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering)
Credit: UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering

Testing the Tattoo:

Nine healthy volunteers tested the tattoo. They were asked to wear the sensor before and after they consumed alcohol (red wine or beer). The device was shaken and bent but still gave participant’s actual alcohol concentration in sweat/ blood showing both flexibility and accuracy.

This is a big deal. The researchers are now hoping to further develop the device so it can track alcohol levels round the clock.

“Lots of accidents on the road are caused by drunk driving,” said Joseph Wang, co-author of the study. “This technology provides an accurate, convenient and quick way to monitor alcohol consumption to help prevent people from driving while intoxicated.”

For further details, you can view the study published in American Chemical Society.


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