UT, Texas A&M researchers develop e-tattoo that can continuously monitor blood pressure

Claire Stevens, News Reporter

A team of scientists at UT and Texas A&M developed a new “electronic tattoo” that can continuously monitor blood pressure, providing key insights that could help identify and understand conditions like hypertension and strokes.

The wearable technology measures blood pressure with thin, electronic tattoos that adhere to the wrist, replacing the bulky cuff typically needed to read blood pressure at the doctor’s office, according to a recently published article in “Nature Nanotechnology.” The development could allow for continuous blood pressure monitoring outside of a clinical environment. 

“There is a significant amount of research showing that if you capture continuous blood pressure throughout the day, you can truly capture the underlying health of the (participant),” said Kaan Sel, a PhD candidate at Texas A&M and co-lead on the project. “That’s the main motivation. We want to capture blood pressure continuously throughout the day.”

The “tattoos” work similarly to temporary tattoos that children apply using a wet rag, said Dmitry Kireev, a postdoctoral researcher at UT and co-lead on the project.

 “We call it a tattoo because we can actually transfer it on the skin using this tattoo paper approach,” Kireev said.

The electronic tattoos are able to monitor blood pressure through bioimpedance measurements, a method where small, safe amounts of electricity are applied through the tattoo. Through this, the tattoo can measure changes in blood volume and monitor blood pressure constantly. 

While devices like smart watches sometimes use light in a similar way to detect changes in blood volume, there are still drawbacks to that approach, said Neelotpala Kumar, an electrical and computer engineering PhD student at UT who worked on the project.

“One of the main reasons why we want to focus on bioimpedance over here is that unlike light, this thing does not really discriminate between skin colors,” Kumar said. “(With light) the sensitivity of the data can kind of vary depending on the skin color.”

In addition to not being impacted by skin tone, the electrical bioimpedance that is used in the electronic tattoos is accurate regardless of a person’s body mass index, which can often impact the effectiveness of smartwatch readings, Sel said.

Moving forward, the scientists see the technology being useful for both research and individual use, though these applications are still in progress, Kireev said.

“Translating into some kind of more user-friendly technology is definitely one of the potential future directions for the technology,” Kireev said.