Graphene 'Tattoo' Tests Diabetics' Sweat and Delivers Drugs

diabetes patch tattoo
The electronic skin patch can detect glucose levels through electrochemical sensors and deliver drugs through micro-needles. MC10

A new type of flexible skin patch made of the “wonder material” graphene has been created, capable of detecting glucose levels of diabetics and delivering drugs if required.

The electronic patch, developed by researchers at Seoul National University in Korea and U.S. electronics firm MC10, could potentially transform treatments for sufferers of diabetes. Current methods involve finger-prick tests that can be inconvenient, invasive and sometimes painful.

The patch, which resembles a tattoo when placed on the skin, monitors glucose levels through tiny sweat sensors. If high levels are detected, micro-needles are triggered to deliver the drug metformin. In tests on mice with Type II diabetes, the patch was able to keep blood sugar levels under control.

The researchers, led by Dae-Hyeong Kim, decided to use graphene to develop the prototype as the material is flexible and very thin. Gold studs were added in order to be able to read the glucose levels.

Graphene, first created in a laboratory by researchers at the University of Manchester in 2004, has been heralded as a wonder material due to its remarkable properties and vast potential. The one-atom thick material consists of carbon atoms in a honeycomb lattice that is 200-times stronger than steel, more conductive than copper and as flexible as rubber.

These properties could potentially be used to create everything from artificial retinas to indoor solar cells.

“For many years people have been looking for graphene applications that will make it into mainstream use,” Professor Ravi Silva, a graphene researcher at the University of Surrey, told Newsweek in a recent interview. “We are finally now getting to the point where these applications are going to happen.”

The research is published this week in Nature Nanotechnology.