Google’s Prototype “Smart Contact Lens”: Measuring Blood Glucose Levels for People with Diabetes

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Earlier this year, Google unveiled a prototype “smart” contact lens to monitor blood glucose levels contained in human tears. The Smart Contact Lens Project, which had been percolating in the top-secret Google X lab for several years, debuted a potential, although long-term, solution for effective blood glucose control in people with diabetes.

January 2014: Google Unveils the Smart Contact Lens

Here is an excerpt from the January 2014 announcement, via the official Google blog:

You’ve probably heard that diabetes is a huge and growing problem—affecting one in every 19 people on the planet. But you may not be familiar with the daily struggle that many people with diabetes face as they try to keep their blood sugar levels under control. Uncontrolled blood sugar puts people at risk for a range of dangerous complications, some short-term and others longer term, including damage to the eyes, kidneys, and heart.

Although some people wear glucose monitors with a glucose sensor embedded under their skin, all people with diabetes must still prick their fingers 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.

Google smart contact lens

A contact lens with embedded circuitry
to monitor blood glucose levels (Source: Google)

We’re now testing a smart contact lens that’s built to measure glucose levels in tears using a tiny wireless chip and miniaturized glucose sensor that are embedded between two layers of soft contact lens material. … It’s still early days for this technology, but we’ve completed multiple clinical research studies which are helping to refine our prototype. We hope this could someday lead to a new way for people with diabetes to manage their disease.

We’re in discussions with the FDA, but there’s still 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.

July 2014: Google Unveils a Partnership with Novartis/Alcon

Last week, Google released additional information about the progress of the Smart Contact Lens Project, outlining a partnership with the European drug maker Novartis. Here is an excerpt from that announcement, via The New York Times:

Novartis said that Alcon, its eye care unit, had struck a deal to license so-called smart lens technology from one of Google’s research divisions. As part of the agreement, Alcon said it would look to create products from Google’s prototype smart contact lens, which uses miniature sensors and a radio antenna thinner than a human hair to track glucose levels.

Information about blood sugar levels, which is particularly useful for people with diabetes, could be uploaded to smartphone devices and used by doctors and patients to monitor the data almost in real time, according to a statement from Google issued when the company released its prototype in January.

Joe Jimenez, the chief executive of Novartis, acknowledged in an interview that many previous attempts to develop noninvasive glucose tests had failed, noting that the company previously tried — and failed — to develop its own glucose-monitoring contact lenses several years ago.

What makes this case different is the involvement of Google’s engineers, he said. “One of the biggest hurdles was miniaturization, and that’s one of the biggest benefits that Google X brings,” he said. “This is a set of engineers that are really doing incredible things with technology.”

Please note: The prototype smart contact lens must undergo many rounds of rigorous testing, via human clinical trials, before it can be determined if it is accurate, safe, and effective. In addition, since it is a medical device, the lens must receive FDA approval before it can be marketed and widely distributed.

More about Blood Glucose Levels and Diabetes from VisionAware

Research has shown that maintaining blood glucose levels within an acceptable range can lower and delay your risk for complications. You and your physician must decide together what blood glucose levels are achievable for you, based upon your age, abilities, medical status, personal needs, and any other special circumstances.

The current acceptable blood glucose target ranges set by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) are as follows:

  • Fasting/pre-meal: between 70 and 130 mg/dL
  • One to two hours after meal: below 180 mg/dL

It is important to remember that the purpose of your blood glucose readings is to let you know how close you are to your target range. Try not to label your readings as either “bad” or “good”; instead, think of them as indicators that describe (a) which aspects of your treatment are working for you and (b) which aspects need to be changed.

Two major studies that support the importance of blood glucose control are The Diabetes Control and Complications Trial for type 1 diabetes and the United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study for type 2 diabetes.

What Is Hyperglycemia?

Hyperglycemia rrefers to chronically high blood glucose levels. Most medical professionals define hyperglycemia by using the blood glucose goals that you and your physician have established and combining those goals with the blood glucose target ranges set by the ADA.

Symptoms of hyperglycemia can include the following:

  • Dry, parched mouth
  • Extreme thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • General weakness
  • Fruity breath
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Deep, rapid breathing

Persistent hyperglycemia can cause a wide range of chronic complications that affect almost every system in your body. When large blood vessels are affected, it can lead to:

  • Stroke (cerebral vascular disease)
  • Circulation disorders and possible amputation (peripheral vascular disease)
  • Heart attack or Congestive Heart Failure (coronary heart disease)

When smaller blood vessels are affected, it can lead to:

  • Kidney disease (nephropathy)
  • Nerve damage (neuropathy)
  • Eye disease (retinopathy)

You can reduce your risk factors for complications related to hyperglycemia by doing the following:

  • Maintaining your blood glucose levels within a normal range
  • Keeping your blood pressure under control
  • Controlling your blood fats (cholesterol and triglycerides)
  • Avoiding/stopping smoking
  • Increasing your physical activity
  • Avoiding excess alcohol consumption
  • Developing healthy eating habits and losing weight if necessary

What Is Hypoglycemia?

Hypoglycemia refers to dangerously low blood glucose levels that drop below 70 mg/dL. It is an acute complication of diabetes and occurs in individuals who use insulin or specific kinds of oral diabetes medication. If you use oral diabetes medications, ask your physician or diabetes educator whether hypoglycemia should be a concern.

Symptoms of hypoglycemia can include the following:

  • Sweating
  • Rapid pulse
  • Shakiness, dizziness, weakness
  • Decreased coordination
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Blurred vision
  • Headache
  • Trouble performing routine tasks

To treat hypoglycemia, you must immediately:

  • Check your blood glucose level to determine the amount of carbohydrate that is needed to raise your blood glucose to a safe level.
  • Use the 15/15 Rule: Consume 15 grams of carbohydrate (4 ounces of regular juice or soda, 1 tablespoon honey, 2 tablespoons raisins, 7 Life Savers®, 9 Sweet Tarts®, or 3-4 glucose tablets) and retest your blood glucose in 15 minutes.
  • If it is still below 70 mg/dL, you should consume an additional 15 grams of carbohydrate.
  • If you are not planning to have a meal within one to two hours after treating a hypoglycemic reaction, eat a snack containing 15-30 grams of carbohydrate to prevent another episode of hypoglycemia.

Other tips for managing hypoglycemia include:

Additional Information