News & Analysis

Is Google’s smart lens a better alternative for Diabetics?

- January 20, 2014 3 MIN READ

There’s been undying hype in the media over the past few days following Google’s announcement that they’re testing a prototype for a smart contact lens that would function as an alternative to the traditional needle-prick glucose monitoring system. The smart contact lens is undeniably innovative, but is it really a better option for Diabetics?

According to Diabetes Australia, approximately 280 people develop Diabetes every day – an alarming number, to say the least. Most Diabetics would say the needle-prick system is a nuisance, but it’s something that they’ve become accustomed to over time. They’ve probably pricked the tip of their fingers so many times, that they have reduced sensitivity to needle pricks. But that’s not to say they wouldn’t adopt a less invasive and more convenient tool at the drop of a hat.

Google’s smart contact lenses has secretly been in the making for some years now. For the not-so-technically-inclined, the contact lens basically has a miniaturised sensor that will monitor the wearer’s glucose levels – not by measuring the sugar in their blood, but by tracking it in their tears. The technology will monitor glucose once per second, and then transmit the data through a wireless transmitter.

“We wondered if miniaturized electronics — think 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,” Google said in its media release.

“We hope a tiny, super sensitive glucose sensor embedded in a contact lens could be the first step in showing how to measure glucose through tears, which in the past has only been theoretically possible.”

Although traditional glucose monitoring systems aren’t convenient or comfortable, it seems that a contact lens that needs to be placed carefully on top of the eye isn’t all that convenient or comfortable either. Those who wear contact lenses do complain of minor but bothersome side effects – like dryness and itchiness.

On top of that, Diabetes sufferers usually experience blurry vision and sensitivity to light when their glucose levels are high – so contact lenses could exacerbate the discomfort.

Google’s new technology, however, deserves merit. If the contact lens does what’s intended, it would provide a better report of a Diabetes sufferer’s blood sugar levels throughout the day. Even those who check their glucose 10 times a day wouldn’t be able to compete with a second-by-second monitoring system. This information can then be used for much better management of the disease.

The electronics in the contact lens lie on the periphery, meaning that, most the part, it won’t obstruct the wearer’s vision. The technology will power itself by pulling energy from surrounding radio frequency waves. Google will also test the possibility of adding a tiny LED light to indicate to the wearer when their glucose levels have entered a dangerous range.

The concept is certainly disruptive and a potential game-changer, but the details still have to be worked out. For example, how exactly will the technology calculate blood glucose levels through tears? Will the technology be affected by weather conditions or a person’s emotional reactions?

Google admitted that there’s much more work to be done before it could be launched into the market.

But if they do get the technology right, it could prove to have a positive impact on the lives of Diabetes sufferers – perhaps even saving lives, or helping researchers discover better treatment options or a cure.

The official Google Blog states, “We’ve always said that we’d seek out projects that seem a bit speculative or strange, and at a time when the International Diabetes Federation is declaring that the world is ‘losing the battle’ against diabetes, we thought this project was worth a shot.”