diabetes-google-lensesGoogle is developing a new “smart” contact lens that helps diabetics monitor their glucose levels.

If successful, the contact lens could be a game changer for diabetics, who now have to measure their glucose level drawing blood with a lancet.

Developed in the Google X lab, the lens measures glucose level in tears and sends the results wirelessly to a monitoring device. Continuous measurements are painless and safer for the wearer than using a traditional glucometer just occasionally.

The new contact lens, still under development, has two soft layers, a glucose sensor and a tiny wireless transmitter. It can measure glucose levels even once per second. A small LED light may be incorporated to give the wearer an early warning of changes.

While the invention is not yet ready for commercial applications, Google has already performed clinical trials and is now looking for more partners to develop it further. The idea of using a contact lens to monitor glucose levels is not completely new, and Microsoft has already researched a similar idea earlier. Researchers at University of Akron have also developed a contact lens that changes colour depending on glucose level.

Working with the project at Google X is Babak Parviz, a researcher who has led the Google Glass team and also developed a contact lens that has a wirelessly controlled LED light.

The Google X lab is known for its many innovations, such as a driverless car.

Diabetes becoming more common

It is estimated that some 300,000 people suffer from diabetes in New Zealand, with 100,000 of them still undiagnosed. Diabetes is a condition where the body does not produce or utilize insulin properly, leading to high blood sugar. This damages the eyes, heart and kidneys. Insulin is added to the body using an injection needle.

Diabetics have a big responsibility in their own treatment, and must monitor their blood sugar level continuously. However, as pricking the skin to use a traditional glucometer can be inconvenient or even painful, many diabetics measure their blood glucose level less often than recommended. Google’s smart contact lens, if successful, may prove to make adequate treatment much easier.

The International Diabetes Federation has warned that the world is “losing the battle” against diabetes. It is expected that the prevalence of diabetes may rise to ten percent worldwide by the year 2035.