Ordinarily, in order to measure the electrical activity of the heart or muscle tissue, relatively stiff electrodes are applied to the skin along with a contact gel. There may soon be a less cumbersome alternative, however, in the form of ultrathin temporary tattoo electrodes.

The prototype electrodes were designed by a consortium of scientists from Austria's Graz University of Technology (TU Graz), along with Italy's Instituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Università degli Studi, and Scuola Superiore Sant' Anna.

Made by inkjet printing electrically-conductive polymers onto commercially-available temporary tattoo paper, the electrodes are applied to the skin simply using water. Because they're less than one micrometer thick, they conform well to uneven surfaces, they stay in place while the patient moves around, and can reportedly hardly be felt on the skin.

Additionally, the electrodes remain adhered and operational for days after being applied (although they can be removed by scrubbing with soap and water), making long-term monitoring of patients possible. They will even keep working if perforated through wear and tear, or by hairs growing through them.

And although they do still currently have to be hooked up to electrical wires in order to take readings, it is hoped that this may change down the road.

"We are working on the development of wireless tattoo electrodes with integrated transistors which would make it possible to both send and receive signals," says lead scientist Francesco Greco of TU Graz. "Not only could we measure impulses using this method, but we could also stimulate body regions in a targeted way."

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Advanced Science.

Source: TU Graz

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