Temporary 'tattoo' could offer new non-invasive way to monitor alcohol levels

Next gen breathalyser: This flexible wearable sensor can be worn on the arm to detect alcohol levels. —  AFP Relaxnews

Next gen breathalyser: This flexible wearable sensor can be worn on the arm to detect alcohol levels. — AFP Relaxnews

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, USA, have developed new technology that could enable doctors and police to accurately measure blood alcohol levels through a temporary tattoo worn on the skin.

Developed by Joseph Wang and Patrick Mercier, the pair created the tattoo device to enable people to monitor their alcohol levels quickly and conveniently to help prevent driving under the influence, a common cause of road accidents.

At the moment measuring blood alcohol concentration, the most accurate indicator of a person's alcohol level, involves the more invasive method of pricking the finger for blood. The other common method of using a breathalyser is non-invasive, but is not always as accurate.

However this new non-invasive tattoo simply sticks to the skin and can accurately measures a person's blood alcohol level in just 15 minutes. 

The tattoo works by releasing the drug pilocarpine, which passes through the skin and induces sweat. The sweat then comes into contact with an electrode coated with alcohol oxidase, an enzyme which reacts with alcohol to release hydrogen peroxide, which is then electrochemically detected by the device.

This data is then received by the electronic circuit board and then sent wirelessly to a laptop, smartphone or other mobile device. Alerts could also be sent to your phone during a night out to let you know how much you've been drinking.

If used to prevent drink driving, the device could also be integrated with a car's alcohol ignition interlocks, or friends could use it to check up on each other before letting one another drive as extra preventive measures. 

Until now such a device has not been available, with co-first author of the paper Somayeh Imani also commenting that, "This device can use a Bluetooth connection, which is something a breathalyser can't do. We've found a way to make the electronics portable and wireless, which are important for practical, real-life use."

The team have so far tested their device on nine healthy volunteers who wore the tattoo on their arms before and after consuming either a bottle of beer or glass of red wine.

The device not only accurately reflected the wearers' blood alcohol concentrations but also gave an accurate reading even after it was repeatedly bent and shaken, demonstrating that the results won't be affected by the wearer's movements.

The team are now looking at taking their research further and developing a device that can monitor alcohol levels for 24 hours.

The work was published recently in the journal ACS Sensors.  —  AFP Relaxnews