In the United States, the number of patients diagnosed with diabetes (both Type 1 and Type 2) has doubled over the last decade. Type 2 accounts for 90-95% of all diabetes diagnoses. Over eight percent of the U.S. population is believed to have diabetes, and of those with it, an estimated 27% do not even know it. Monitoring blood glucose levels is critically important and must be done multiple times a day, which can be painful and cumbersome. Google has just announced a prototype device that retrieves information about blood sugar directly from the eyeball, via a contact lens.

Typically, a small blood sample is taken from the fingertip using a combination of a lancet, strips, and a blood glucose meter. For those who have had diabetes for a long time or require more frequent testing, it can be hard to find a spot that will bleed easily. There are embedded blood glucose monitors, but they require a device to be taped to the skin or work on a belt and require outpatient surgery for replacement. Unfortunately, because properly monitoring blood sugar is such a large commitment, many people are not doing it right. Those who choose not to manage their disease properly are at a much greater risk of developing blindness, kidney failure, or having their lower extremities amputated.

Many researchers have been seeking alternative ways to monitor glucose without the use of blood, in order to make it easier for diabetics to stay on top of their sugar levels. Some newer noninvasive glucose tests include checking saliva, urine, or tears. Tears can provide an incredibly accurate measurement, but it is not always easy to get a sample. Google’s solution to using tears is minimally invasive and can provide constant monitoring of glucose levels.

A prototype soft contact lens has been outfitted with a micro-scale computer chip, sensor, and an antenna. Once every second, the sensor monitors the glucose levels in the tears and transmits the information to a wireless device, such as a smart phone. This information could also be sent directly to the person’s doctor. Future prototypes may also include a tiny LED which would immediately alert the wearer that sugar levels are either too low or too high and to take immediate action. The technology within the lens does not impact the field of vision and should not be much different than wearing traditional contact lenses.

Currently, scientists at Google are in talks with the FDA about taking this prototype to the next level. It will be years before the contact will be available for clinical use. Google is reaching out to potential partners in order to make this a feasible option for diabetics. This has the potential to revolutionize how millions of people with diabetes manage their disease and give them the best chance to protect their eyesight, limbs, and life.

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