Google X Labs create smart contact lens to monitor diabetes

Posted by Gareth Hargreaves

Two layer lens with embedded wireless chips measures glucose levels in the eye.

Smart contact lens

Google’s smart contact lens technology, developed by the tech giant’s X Labs, has come one step closer to commercial application with the news that it has partnered with Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis to explore how the technology can benefit diabetics and those suffering macular degeneration due to age.

Type 2 Diabetes is a disease that is most common among the over 40s. As we grow older, we gain weight, reduce the amount of exercise we do and, through our rich diet, generally ask too much of our digestive system. Type 2 Diabetes occurs when your body can no longer produce enough insulin to maintain normal blood glucose levels.   

As most people develop Type 2 later in life, managing the condition has to be learned and adapted to. Glucose levels in the body change frequently with normal activity such as eating or exercise, which is why those with the condition need to monitor themselves around the clock.

All people with diabetes must test drops of blood throughout the day. It is an uncomfortable, painful necessity and, as a result, many people with diabetes check their blood glucose less often than they should.

The lenses, which were unveiled in January 2014, use sensors sandwiched between two soft layers to measure the glucose levels in the wearer’s tears, transmitting this information wirelessly once per second to a connected smartphone, tablet or other device.

Google says it hopes the technology will help diabetics around the world by removing the need to perform regular, painful blood tests.

Writing on the Google blog project co-founders Brian Otis and Baback Parviz revealed, “It’s still early days for this technology, but we’ve completed multiple clinical research studies which are helping to refine our prototype. We hope this could someday lead to a new way for people with diabetes to manage their disease.”

The aim of the partnership with Novartis is to extend the scope of the technology to also help those suffering from vision loss that occurs with age.

Novartis explained: “For people living with presbyopia who can no longer read without glasses, the ‘smart lens’ has the potential to provide accommodative vision correction to help restore the eye's natural autofocus on near objects in the form of an accommodative contact lens or intraocular lens as part of the refractive cataract treatment.”

The company hopes that by combining Google’s expertise in miniaturized technology with its manufacturing resources it can create contact lenses that can “help restore the eye’s natural autofocus on near objects”.

It will be interesting to see how far micro technology can move on modern medicine and the implications that will have for the health of older people.

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