Diabetes affects one in 19 persons around the world, according to Google’s research. Just imagine if all these people could forget about pricking their fingers several times a day to carry out blood sugar tests and instead they could just simply wear smart contact lenses.
Google has been developing smart contact lenses embedded with an antenna thinner than a human hair and sensors as small as bits of glitter. No, these lenses are not meant to help people develop a super-human sight or record everything they perceive through their eyes; instead, these devices have the aim to assist diabetics in monitoring their glucose levels. Google announced on Thursday that it has been working on this classified project at its Google X Research Lab.
The tech giant has not only developed prototypes of these smart contact lenses, but also has carried on several clinical research studies, met with the US Food and Drug Administration, and looked for potential partners to launch the product to the market. “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," the project co-founders Babak Parviz and Brian Otis wrote in a blog post. "We're testing prototypes that can generate a reading once per second."
The big picture
Diabetes has been described as one of the fastest growing diseases in the planet. People suffering this condition have to give themselves finger prick blood tests throughout the day in order to keep their blood sugar levels in check. This procedure can be painful and time consuming, but it is crucial: If the glucose levels get out of control diabetics risk damage to their heart, eyes, and kidneys. Medical scientists have been looking for other ways to test blood sugar levels. One area of research has been exploring breathalyzers as a way to identify heightened glucose levels. Other branch studies glucose levels in tears, which is where the idea of Google’s contact lenses for diabetic control came along.
Measuring glucose levels in tears is quite complicated, perhaps because it has been hard for scientists to collect tears for testing. In addition, it is still unclear how effective this ocular body fluid works in measuring glucose levels.
Google’s contact lenses for diabetic control are far off from any sort of mainstream use. The tech giant needs not only to find a partner to get the contact lenses to the market, but also needs to go through the laborious and demanding FDA clearance process. Besides checking glucose levels in tears, Google’s contact lenses for diabetic control are expected to notify users if their glucose levels are high or low through the possible integration of tiny LED lights that could light up as a warning sign.