Brown professor erasing tattoo regrets

By
Tuesday, September 4, 2007

For those who long to brand their lover’s name on their lower back but fear regret if the relationship ends bitterly, a new type of tattoo ink designed for easier removal – and formulated in Brown labs – may be a solution.

Edith Mathiowitz, professor of medical science, is using a method called encapsulation to create the inks, which are being marketed by Freedom-2 Inc. The inks are created by “trapping” pigment in biocompatible, polymeric beads that prevent dye from leaking, Mathiowitz said.

Tattoo artists can inject the new ink into customers’ skin using a traditional tattoo needle. But unlike traditional tattoos, those made with Freedom-2 ink can be removed in a single laser treatment.

Removal of traditional tattoo ink uses the same type of laser treatment, but achieving the desired effect requires multiple laser treatments, which are spaced months apart and are not always effective.

“When the laser is applied, it ruptures the (Freedom-2 ink) capsule, and then the body eliminates it,” Mathiowitz said.

Researchers from Duke University and Massachusetts General Hospital invented the new tattoo technology in the late 1990s, according to Martin Schmeig, president and CEO of Freedom-2. Three years ago, the founders of Freedom-2 approached Mathiowitz and asked her if she was interested in getting involved in the project.

“My first response was, ‘No way,’ ” Mathiowitz said, citing her concern about the seriousness of the project in comparison with the rest of her research.

But she changed her mind after learning that the technology would make tattoos safer and easier to remove. The possibility of developing “therapeutic applications” for the new technology correlates with her research in medical advances. “I realized that there is a chance to do something really positive,” she said.

The University and Freedom-2 solidified their collaboration in May when they entered an intellectual property license agreement.

The relationship is beneficial on both ends, according to Schmeig, who described it as one of “great mutual respect and understanding.”

“Dr. Mathiowitz and the administration at Brown have made Freedom-2 what it is by providing us with their knowledge, their facilities and their will to help us make a product out of this,” Schmeig said. “There would be no company without Brown University.”

Mathiowitz said the funding from Freedom-2 facilitates her research and helps her compensate her graduate students. “I think this is a very good example of how interaction with companies can be very fruitful,” she said.

In the coming months, as the company puts distribution channels in place, Mathiowitz and her students will create inks that meet Freedom-2’s safety and removability standards.

Schmeig said delivering high quality inks that won’t alter the “fabulous art form” of tattooing is a priority for Freedom-2.

“We’re literally going in and asking Renoir, Monet and the great artists of the world to think about changing the materials that they use, and that’s a big deal,” he said.

While he said the response from tattoo artists to the new ink has been “mixed,” Schmeig said most have become advocates after trying it.

Still, some favor traditional inks. “I’m kind of loyal to the idea that a tattoo is there forever,” said Lenny Marandino ‘09.5, who has two tattoos. But he said Freedom-2 ink could be a “good option for a lot of people.” Even though the ink is permanent, Marandino said Freedom-2’s removal process may cause many to consider it just “a step above henna.”

Schmeig became the first person to receive a Freedom-2 ink tattoo – the company’s logo on his arm. He later had the tattoo removed and said the spot where it was is “perfectly clear.”

Schmeig said he now has four other Freedom-2 tattoos with “more stylish” designs that better suit his personality. “I don’t know that I want to walk around the rest of my life carrying my company logo on my arm,” he said.

The ink will be on the market in December, said Pat Arcand, the public relations representative for Freedom-2.

Though Freedom-2 ink costs more to make, Schmeig said he does not anticipate a significant difference in retail prices of a Freedom-2 tattoo compared to a tattoo using inks currently available. “A $200 tattoo might cost $300, but the peace of mind and features you get with it make it worthwhile.”

Schmeig said he hopes Freedom-2 will broaden the market for tattooing. “Who you are now may not be who you want to be tomorrow,” he said. “We don’t want anyone to feel that there’s an obstacle or barrier to this great art form.”