Google unveils ‘smart contact lens’ to measure glucose levels in diabetics

Diabetes is a growing problem, affecting 1 in every 19 people in the world, with estimates of one in ten people forecast to have diabetes by 2035. Diabetics often say that managing their glucose levels is like having a part-time job, and some find it difficult to maintain proper levels. Our blood sugar fluctuates during the course of everyday, depending of what activities we are doing. For instance eating will immediately raise our blood sugar, whilst exercising and sweating will cause levels to drop. Diabetics typically have to check their blood sugar levels by pricking a finger and testing the blood, but many find this to be disruptive and interrupts their routine; so much so that some neglect this testing and subsequently their levels are not monitored correctly.

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By not controlling your blood sugar you run the risk of short and long-term problems, such as fainting, damage to the eyes, kidneys and heart and even death through coma. In order to measure blood sugar more easily, the experts at Google X have been developing a smart contact lens, designed to accurately check the glucose levels in our teardrops. The contact lens features miniaturized electronics that include tiny wires smaller than a human hair, and microchips so small they look like glitter. The glucose sensor is embedded between two layers of contact lens material, and lens would be individually manufactured to patients particular measurements.

The miniaturized electronics in the smart lens do not affect the person’s vision as the sensors and wires are located outside of the iris and pupil. Google are also investigating a way not only to check levels, but to issue a warning via LED lights if blood sugar drops below a certain level. Although Google have developed several prototypes of the smart contact lens, the next stages to get the lens to market will involve discussions with the FDA, and a search for partners for further technical assistance.

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Project co-founder Brian Otis stated on the blogpost: “We’ve always said that we’d seek out projects that seem a bit speculative or strange, and at a time when the International Diabetes Federation (PDF) is declaring that the world is “losing the battle” against diabetes, we thought this project was worth a shot.”

Mr Otis admitted that there is ‘a lot more work’ needed to get the technology ready for everyday use: “It’s still early days for this technology, but we’ve completed multiple clinical research studies which are helping to refine our prototype.”

Early feedback from industry experts is so far positive, with many feeling that this technology is just the start of other projects that involve wearable devices. Manoj Menon, managing director of consulting firm Frost & Sullivan told the BBC: “This is an exciting development for preventive healthcare industry. It is likely to spur a range of other innovations towards miniaturizing technology and using it in wearable devices to help people monitor their bodies better.”

For more information check out the Google blogpost.