Google is developing a new type of contact lens designed to help patients with diabetes measure their blood sugar levels.
The technology giant said it has begun testing a ‘smart contact lens’ that’s built to measure glucose levels in tears. It uses a small wireless chip and miniaturised glucose sensor that are embedded between two layers of soft contact lens material.
Writing on the firm’s official blog Brian Otis and Babak Parviz, the project’s co-founders, said: “We’re testing prototypes that can generate a reading once per second. 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.”
They admit that it’s ‘still early days’ for this technology, but add that the company has completed multiple clinical research studies aimed at helping refine its prototype. “We hope this could someday lead to a new way for people with diabetes to manage their disease,” they say.
Whilst Google is in discussions with the FDA, there will still be a lot more work to do to turn this technology into a system that people can use.
“We’re not going to do this alone: 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.”
There are already a number of blood glucose testers on the market including ones from pharma firms such as Roche.
Otis and Parviz say that people they have spoken with have said managing their diabetes is like having a part-time job. Glucose levels change frequently with normal activity like exercising or eating, or even sweating and can make tracking them manually difficult.
“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,” they say. “It’s disruptive, and it’s painful. And, as a result, many people with diabetes check their blood glucose less often than they should.”
They hope that this contact lens will allow the wireless device inside to catch and analyse tears automatically, making it easier for people to track their glucose levels.
Late last year the firm launched its own healthcare company Calico – an abbreviation for the ‘California Life Company’ – which will be led and financially supported by Arthur Levinson, chairman and former chief executive of Genentech and current chairman of Google’s rival internet firm Apple.
The new company said it would focus on health and well-being, in particular the challenge of ageing and associated diseases as Google looks to move deeper into the healthcare space.
But in December Google landed in hot water when a genetic diagnostic company it backs – 23andMe – received a warning letter from the FDA saying it cannot continue to market its product without regulatory approval.
The US regulator said some of the intended uses of the company’s Saliva Collection Kit and Personal Genome Service are ‘particularly concerning’, including risk assessments for certain cancers. The company has said it is now working with the FDA to resolve the situation.