Study examines safety and efficacy of made-to-fade tattoos for medical markings

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Researchers at Henry Ford Health -; one of the nation's leading integrated academic medical institutions -; in collaboration with Ephemeral Tattoo, have conducted a study on the safety and efficacy of made-to-fade tattoos for medical markings.

Fifty to 60 percent of cancer patients receive radiation therapy during their course of treatment. Patients have traditionally been required to receive small, permanent tattoos on their skin to ensure therapy is delivered accurately to the same place each time while minimizing healthy tissue exposure to radiation. On the heels of this study, Ephemeral will offer its innovative made-to-fade tattoo ink -; which meets all required medical standards -; as a replacement for the small, permanent tattoos patients receive on their skin to help position them for radiation treatment.

As part of the study, 15 patients who were scheduled to undergo radiation therapy were given a total of 44 tattoos using Ephemeral's made-to-fade ink, which is specifically formulated to last throughout the four-to-eight-week course of treatment, but disappear after. Ephemeral Tattoo ink is applied like a traditional tattoo – by a needle into the dermis -; but due to the degradation of the bioabsorbable polymers, the ink breaks down over time into small enough sizes for the body's immune system to remove it. The study was created by Henry Ford Health radiation oncology resident Eric Schaff, M.D., with the help of principal investigator Farzan Siddiqui, M.D., Ph.D., and research engineer Marissa Gilbert.

The initial safety data we've seen from this study is promising. Study participants were questioned weekly as to whether they experienced any adverse effects at the site of the tattoo, such as pain, itchiness, rashes or other issues. To date, there have been no adverse effects reported by participants."

Eric Schaff, M.D., Henry Ford Health radiation oncology resident

The biodegradable ink used in the study was developed by Ph.D. chemical engineers, Vandan Shah and Brennal Pierre at Ephemeral Tattoo. Dr. Dhaval Bhanusali, board certified dermatologist and Michigan State University alum, was instrumental in advising Ephemeral and lending his resources on making ink improvements. According to Brennal Pierre, co-founder and chief technology officer of Ephemeral Tattoo, the ink is made up of FDA-approved ingredients, similar to dissolvable stitches.

"Ephemeral Tattoo's ink is made from medical-grade polymers, which are chains of smaller molecules and natural and synthetic color additives routinely used in food, medical devices, drugs and cosmetics," said Pierre, who is also a chemical and biomolecular engineer. "The polymers in Ephemeral Tattoo ink are biodegradable and bioabsorbable, so after they enter the body, they will gradually break apart until the particles are small enough for the body to remove."

Made-to-fade tattoos for radiation therapy could potentially provide a range of benefits for patients, Dr. Schaff explained.

"One of the potential benefits is providing an alternative to permanent tattoos for individuals with religious, cultural or other considerations that prohibit them from receiving a permanent tattoo," said Dr. Schaff. "For some patients, permanent tattoos also serve as a daily reminder of prior radiation therapy, which may have a negative psychological impact on their quality of life. We believe semi-permanent tattoos could offer patients an alternative to permanent tattoos, which has long been the standard of care for radiation therapy alignment."

Over the years, there have been attempts in the medical community to use non-permanent tattoo options, such as henna, for radiation therapy alignment. Because henna and other temporary tattoos start to fade quickly and do not last the six to eight weeks required for longer radiation courses, the tattoos must be reapplied over the course of treatment, which can introduce inaccuracies and prolong treatment time.

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