Google has revealed the project of a contact lens that measures glucose levels in tears, giving 382 million diabetics all over the globe the smallest glucose sensor – and an alternative to pricking their fingers and drawing blood up to 10 times daily.
The device, which will take at least five years to reach
consumers, is one of the few ways to make glucose monitoring for
diabetic patients more convenient and less invasive, AP reported.
To carry out the procedure, the device uses a small glucose sensor and a wireless transmitter to keep an eye on the blood sugar levels and adjust the dose of insulin required.
“We’re testing prototypes that can generate a reading once per second,” Google indicated in the company’s official blog.
“We’re also investigating the potential for this to serve as an early warning for the wearer, so we’re exploring integrating tiny LED lights that could light up to indicate that glucose levels have crossed above or below certain thresholds,” the corporation added.
It was also stressed that it’s “still early days” for the technology, but some studies have already been carried out.
The research began at the University of Washington, where scientists worked under National Science Foundation funding, and has been kept secret until this Thursday.
The contact lens was later developed in the Google X lab – along with a driverless car, Google's web-surfing eyeglasses and Project Loon, a network of large balloons aiming to take the internet to unwired locations.
"You can take it to a certain level in an academic setting, but at Google we were given the latitude to invest in this project," one of the lead researchers, Brian Otis, told AP. "The beautiful thing is we're leveraging all of the innovation in the semiconductor industry that was aimed at making cellphones smaller and more powerful."
The device looks similar to a typical contact lens – however, it actually also contains two twinkling glitter-specks loaded with tens of thousands of miniaturized transistors, plus hair-thin antennae.
"It doesn't look like much, but it was a crazy amount of work to get everything so very small," Otis said at Google's Silicon Valley headquarters, adding that the device currently represents the smallest glucose sensor ever made.
In fact, the contact lens isn’t the only device created in attempt to facilitate the lives of millions of diabetics. A similar contact lens by Netherlands-based NovioSense is a work in progress. Also, Israel-based OrSense has already tested a thumb cuff. Finally, early designs for special tattoos and saliva sensors have been presented.
One gadget, a wristwatch monitor, was approved by the FDA in 2001, but patients complained that low-level electric currents taking fluid from their hands was a painful process, and the device demonstrated some errors as well.
"There are a lot of people who have big promises," Dr. Christopher Wilson, CEO of NovioSense, told AP. "It's just a question of who gets to market with something that really works first."
Currently, 382 million people have diabetes, and by 2035 that number will rise to 592 million, according to International Diabetes Federation. Eighty percent of people with diabetes live in low- and middle-income countries, and most of them are between 40 and 59 years old.
Among the countries that see the biggest quantity of diabetes cases in the population are China, India, the US, Brazil, and Russia.