While we have seen the technology behind glucose-monitoring contact lenses develop over the least few years, getting them out of the lab and onto the eyes of diabetes sufferers has been a different story. With Google announcing its testing of a smart contact lens designed to measure glucose levels in tears, the search giant is looking to provide more effective management of the disease.
The project team, led by Brian Otis and Babak Parvis at the Google X laboratory, developed a wireless chip and miniaturized glucose sensor, embedding them between two layers of soft contact lens material. This formed a prototype of a smart contact lens, which Google says is capable of generating one reading of glucose levels per second.
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Emphasizing the importance of proactive rather than reactive monitoring of blood sugar, Google says it is working on a function that would serve as a warning sign for the user, whereby it would illuminate small LED lights when glucose is at unsafe levels.
The potential of smart contact lenses for diabetes sufferers first became apparent in 2009 when Professor Jin Zhang of the University of Western Ontario embedded engineered nanoparticles into hydrogel lenses. Similarly, this system monitored tears for a rise or fall in sugar levels, and in the case that they were unsafe, triggered a chemical reaction that caused the lens to change color.
Then in 2012, a joint venture between Microsoft and the University of Washington sought to integrate electronics into such lenses, allowing for wireless reporting of glucose levels. Interestingly, Parvis worked on this project with Microsoft, but has since moved on to put his expertise to use at Google's secret research facility.
Google acknowledges that it is still a ways off bringing the lens to market, but says it has completed multiple clinical research studies and is currently in discussions with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It also hopes to seek out partners to develop apps and improve the usability of the device for doctors and the wearer.