As kids we have all been infatuated with tattoos. I know I have. Growing up in India, many of the one rupee chocolates used to get us tattoos for free, which I happily used to put on my skin. Elders weren’t too pleased, often citing the harmful effects of these ‘chemical drawings’. Nevertheless, I and my friends used to show off every day to each other till these tattoos remained on our body. It was fun.
Grown up now, but the myth of tattoos has changed. From ‘chemical drawings’ to ‘art’, there are various tattoo artists around the world. The human body is more like a walking, talking drawing book now. Some people tattoo their loved ones names, some the philosophies they follow and some an image that they love. The latest and most surprising myth that I have heard of is that of ‘inducing medicine’ through tattoos.
As reluctant as you may be to accept it, it is true. Tattoo making as an end product is art, but behind that art science are invested ink, machines, and colors, all produced from harm free chemicals so that something beautiful can be expressed on the body. Since these are chemicals we’re talking about, scientists are using them to use medicines now.
Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, USA has come up with some fresh findings and published it in the science journal Nature on the usage of tattoos for medicinal purposes. Combining nanotechnology and medicines, delivering medicines via tattoos seems possible.
Also Read: Precision Medicine – The Ultimate Cure?
This new therapy has already found success in treating Multiple Sclerosis. The process is very simple, similar to tattoos are usually delivered. You make a tattoo using the machine filled with the ink. Position the pin of the machine on the skin and start drawing the tattoo you need. However, the ink will contain anti-oxidants mixed with nanoparticles. “…the carbon-based particles form a dark spot that fades over about one week as they are slowly released into the circulation”, says Baylor scientist Christine Beeton who is heading the experiment.
Related: Where are the Medical Nanobots?
Killer T cells are the infantry division of the human body’s immune system. In a disease like multiple sclerosis, these cells stop differentiating between the body’s own cells and the infiltrating pathogen cells. This lays the groundwork for more physical, mental, sometimes even psychiatric disorders which might eventually end up in permanent damage. When the tattoo is designed on the skin, a small patch sized in the range of nanometers, is formed on the skin. This small patch is the location from where nanoparticles comprised of polyethylene glycol with hydrophilic carbon clusters (PEG-HCCs) are administered into the blood stream. The patch then disappears over time. These carbon particles now present in the blood stream slow down the T cells from attacking while letting the other cells from the immune system to work normally.
The Side Effects
Usually when a medicine is administered to the body, it affects a broader area instead of the targeted specific area. This allows the body to be susceptible to infection and other side effects. But tattoo based medicine delivery has far lower chances of side effects, since the impact is aimed directly at the T cells. After the job is done, these particles exit the body to prevent any permanent problem.
It’s interesting to see the lines between science & art blurring, and even more heartening to see the two work together for such innovative means to push our capabilities as a species forward. I believe science is an art, while art needs science to be precise. This experiment was conducted on rodent specimens for now. However, there’s a good chance you’ll find tattoo studios and a hospital, both in the same building!