Tattoos Might Soon be Used to Treat Autoimmune Diseases
Patients with chronic illnesses might soon be able to find relief from their symptoms in the form of tattoos. No, not wash-off tattoos; real grown up tattoos. But they’re still temporary. Here’s how they work.
These new tattoos could eventually be used to treat patients with autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis or lupus better than anything currently available. MS for example is debilitating and difficult to treat– not all patients respond well to treatment. When you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system mistakes normal cells for threats or intruders. So the most common medications are what are called immunosuppressants. Which as the name implies, suppress your immune system. Usually your T cells are the only ones going all Terminator, but the medication suppresses your good-working immune cells too. So you might not have symptoms anymore but your immune system gets all screwed up. Treatment for any autoimmune disease requires a lot of trial and error before you finally find a treatment that works. Plus, suppressing healthy immune cells might actually cause cancer.
This new tattoo treatment might work better than anything yet because the medication specifically targeted the Terminator cells. So the rest of your immune system can continue to work unfazed. The medication is injected under the skin and it creates a dark spot. As your body absorbs and processes the medication, the dark spot will start to fade. So it’s a real tattoo, but the “ink” is actually powerful life-changing medication. By putting the medication under the skin instead of injecting it into the bloodstream, it takes longer to absorb so less treatments are needed.
When researchers noticed the medication created dark spots they got discouraged at first, but now they’ve decided to embrace it. “We saw it made a black mark when we injected it, and at first we thought that’s going to be a real problem if we ever take it into the clinic,” Christine Beeton from Baylor College of Medicine said. “But we can work around that. We can inject into an area that’s hidden, or use micropattern needles and shape it. I can see doing this for a child who wants a tattoo and could never get her parents to go along,” she said. “This will be a good way to convince them.”
This tattoo treatment has only been tested on rats and mice, so it won’t be hitting the market in the near future. But researchers are pretty excited about this new discovery; it could make life a lot easier for many people with chronic autoimmune disorders.