Last week, Google announced a new project that could make it easier for people with diabetes to manage their blood glucose levels. The project involves a “smart” electronic contact lens with a wireless chip that would measure the glucose level in the user’s tears once per second. The lenses would then flash when sugar levels are too high or low, lowering the person’s risk of having a heart attack, stroke or other problems related to diabetes.
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, 25.8 million people in the U.S. have diabetes. This disease causes an imbalance of blood sugar levels in the body, which need to be controlled via insulin injection or pump (Type 1 diabetes), or diet changes, exercise and oral medication (Type 2 diabetes). Currently, people with diabetes monitor themselves by testing drops of blood to see if sugar levels are high or low. This can be costly and both painful and tiresome, as some people need to test themselves several times a day.
“Although some people wear glucose monitors with a glucose sensor embedded under their skin, all people with diabetes must still prick their finger and test drops of blood throughout the day. It’s disruptive, and it’s painful. And, as a result, many people with diabetes check their blood glucose less often than they should,” co-founders Brian Otis and Babak Parviz wrote in a blog post last Thursday.
The device, an idea that originated from a University of Washington lab several years ago, is still in the very early stages of planning, and it could take at least five years before it’s FDA approved. There are many factors to consider such as, “figuring how to correlate glucose levels in tears as compared with blood. And what happens on windy days, while chopping onions or during very sad movies?” Researchers would also have to consider those who already use contact lenses for corrective vision.
As of now, researchers are looking for partners to help bring the project to market. Google isn’t the first company to incorporate electronics into contact lenses. Just last month, Swiss company Sensimed announced its plan for a contact lens that would help prevent blindness in glaucoma patients.