Scientists from Princeton and Tufts University are aiming to put tattoos on an unusual part of the human body: the teeth.
The research team, led by Princeton nanoscientist Michael McAlpine and Tufts bioengineers Fiorenzo Omenetto, David Kaplan and Hu Tao, has created a unique “tooth tattoo” that could someday help dentists and doctors detect illnesses like gum disease by measuring levels of bacteria in the mouth. Not actually of the ink variety, the tattoo is made of gold, silk and graphite and only temporarily attaches to a patient’s tooth.
“A sensor like this could give you a panoramic view of what’s happening over a number of hours or even days,” said Gerard Kugel, Associate Dean for Research at Tufts School of Dental Medicine. “If you could tell when bacteria levels are spiking, you could shape your course of treatment accordingly.”
The sensors detection abilities may also someday extend beyond diseases of the mouth. Because so many indicators of disease appear in the saliva, the device could someday prove useful in the detection of a variety of other illnesses.
“The mouth is a window to the rest of the body,” Kugel said. “You can spot a lot of potential health problems through saliva, and it’s a much less invasive way to do diagnostic tests than drawing blood.”
The sensor itself is made up of three layers: a sheet of gold foil electrodes, a layer of graphite and a layer of engineered peptides. The delicate three-tiered strip is mounted on a single strand of silk to provide support. Once the tattoo is pressed onto the tooth, the silk dissolves and the wirelessly-powered sensor is stuck in place.
Right now, the research team is working on ways to reduce the size of the sensor (it’s currently about half the size of a postage stamp and as wide as a sheet of paper — a bit too big for human teeth). The group is also looking into constructing the peptides needed to bond with specific strains of bacteria.
[via Tufts University]