For diabetes patients, Google’s smart contact lens project could be one of the best uses of wearable technology thus far. In a blog post on Thursday, Google revealed the company was testing a high-tech contact lens for people with diabetes, which, if brought to market, could replace the need for finger pricks to take glucose levels.
According to Google, the smart contact lens would monitor diabetes patients’ blood-sugar level by taking a reading from the patient’s tears. The smart device would measure glucose levels on a second-by-second basis via a miniature wireless chip and glucose sensor embedded in the contact lens. The project is headed up by Babak Parviz is a former University of Washington professor and Google Glass project founder. He is also a pioneer in the research connected with smart contact lenses. Google is currently working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to improve the device and hopefully bring a polished prototype to market. Here is a small excerpt from the blog post:
“Over the years, many scientists have investigated various body fluids—such as tears—in the hopes of finding an easier way for people to track their glucose levels. But as you can imagine, tears are hard to collect and study. At Google[x], we wondered if miniaturized electronics … chips and sensors so small they look like bits of glitter, and an antenna thinner than a human hair might be a way to crack the mystery of tear glucose and measure it with greater accuracy. We’re now testing a smart contact lens that’s built to measure glucose levels in tears using a tiny wireless chip and miniaturized glucose sensor that are embedded between two layers of soft contact lens material. We’re testing prototypes that can generate a reading once per second.”
While the fad of wearable technology has certainly continued to hold consumer interest, with products like Google Glass and Pebble smartwatch in addition to biometric technologies like the iPhone 5S's Touch ID are certainly appealing to technophiles everywhere, this product, if brought to market, would be one wearable technology that could end up dramatically improving the life and health condition of those who use it. Although overtime, one might become accustomed to doing the finger prick testing, still, who wouldn’t opt for a barely perceivable contact lens over a multiple times daily finger-pricking session?
The regularity with which diabetics need to check their blood glucose levels and the pain involved in pricking oneself multiple times in the day, often leads to missing important blood-sugar readings which could have an adverse affect on diabetics’ health conditions.
Though Google’s admission to working on a smart contact lens for diabetics is one way the technology could improve users’ quality of life, this is not the only way scientists and health professionals hope to see smart lenses used to enhance public health. Here are four other medical uses of smart lenses that have been undergoing testing in the last 2-3 years.
1) Smart Contact Lens To Check Blood Alcohol Level
It is anticipated that if the glucose level in tears can be monitored, sensors in a contact lens could also be used to measure blood alcohol level. The implications for such a technology could be quite positive, particularly if linked to a smartphone app which prevents the use of an automobile, or offers users a designated driver or taxi service contact info.
2) Smart Contact Lens To Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder
Scientists are also looking at ways of using smart contact lenses to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD) through the use of external light sources to reset the patient’s circadian rhythms. Up to this point the traditional use of this treatment has been marginally successful because it currently requires patients to sit in front of a light box each day for lengthy periods of time. With a smart contact lens that has light-emitting diodes, the users pineal gland would be stimulated through the non-image retinal pathway, resulting in modulation of seratonin would help control one’s mood, without have to spend countless hours in front of a light box. This use of smart contacts has been under investigation by researchers in Jacksonville, Florida since 2012 and several patents with regard to the technology have been submitted.
3) Smart Contact Lens To Distribute Anti-Inflammatory
It is anticipated that sensors in a contact lens will soon be able to measure tear film components, including inflammatory mediators. Inflammatory mediators are chemicals, which release when an irritant enters the eye, triggering dilatation of blood vessels. By monitoring these mediators through the contact lens, scientist hope to possibly use the monitoring to drive the release of anti-inflammatory therapeutic agents like eye drops to return the eye to a normal, non-inflamed state.
4) Smart Lens For Other Drug Delivery
Scientists have already been using smart contact lenses to monitor glaucoma patients’ condition through continuous measuring of the curvature of the eye over a 24-hour period using a tiny strain gauge, which is incorporated into the lens. However, one researcher, Daniel Kohane, a professor of anaesthesiology and director of the Laboratory for Biomaterials and Drug Delivery at the Children's Hospital in Boston, hopes to use them to treat the condition and others as well. His smart lenses are designed to release drugs slowly into the eye over a long period. This could be from painkillers to antibiotics.
What do you think of the Google contact lens and the trend towards using smart contact lenses in medical care? Share with us in the comments below.
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As a type 1 diabetic and someone who wears contacts…YES!: Google’s contact lens glucose monitor unveiled. http://t.co/VUNSCMak8n — Drew Guarini (@DrewG7) January 17, 2014
— Mike Beasley (@MikeBeas) January 17, 2014
this is probably the biggest moonshot project from google yet. fascinating. http://t.co/hV0CXyrHtW — dankey kang (@dcseifert) January 17, 2014
— Megan Ranney MD MPH (@meganranney) January 16, 2014
Google in its way to conquer the world >> Introducing our smart contact lens project http://t.co/FAICgfwSpr — Ivo Campos (@Ivo_campos) January 17, 2014
— Amanda Baikie (@baikster03) January 17, 2014