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Healthcare Informatics in the Form of a Contact Lens

Google unveils new smart contact lenses to monitor glucose in diabetics

By Bisk on April 29, 2014
New Google Smart Contact Lens for Health Informatics

Image courtesy of Google

Technology giant Google is developing a smart contact lens to help people with diabetes. The high-tech contact automatically measures glucose levels in tears, eliminating the need for diabetics to prick their fingers multiple times daily for blood testing.

The two-layer soft contact prototype uses chips and sensors the size of bits of glitter, and an antenna thinner than a human hair. Tears seeping through a tiny opening between the layers are measured by the glucose monitor at a rate of once per second.

Google also is investigating the potential to use the lens as an early warning system for diabetics. Micro LED lights could light when glucose levels cross above or below certain thresholds.

The company says it is working closely with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which must approve such devices for public use.

“There’s still a lot more work to do to turn this technology into a system that people can use,” project co-founders Brian Otis and Babak Parviz wrote in a Jan. 16 blog post for Google.

“We’re not going to do this alone,” they wrote. “We plan to look for partners who are experts in bringing products like this to market. These partners will use our technology for a smart contact lens and develop apps that would make the measurements available to the wearer and their doctor.”

Diabetes is a group of metabolic diseases in which a person has high blood sugar (glucose) because of inadequate insulin production or because the body's cells do not respond properly to insulin, or both.

Ten percent of the world’s population, or 592 million people, will have diabetes by 2035, according to the International Diabetes Federation.

"The battle to protect people from diabetes and its disabling, life-threatening complications is being lost," the federation warned in the sixth edition of its Diabetes Atlas, released in late 2013.

Though the smart lens could provide significant relief to diabetics, advances in technology naturally raise questions about privacy and data collection.

Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy & Technology, was briefed by Google about the lens. He said the company assured him that the information would not be added to its data banks of personal information gathered from other services.

“The data will never hit Google’s servers,” Hall told the Washington Post. “That’s a forward-thinking affirmative claim that they’re making. That is important.”

Category: Healthcare