Google Lens Raises Hope Of An End To Painful Needle Jabs
If you’re one of the world’s 382 million people living with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, you’re all too familiar with the annoying, painful reality of the disease – you have to check your blood glucose levels regularly and that usually involves a sometimes painful needle jab to enable squeezing out a drop of blood onto a digital testing strip.
Google’s X division feels your pain and has developed a solution . . . a smart contact lens to measure those levels.
The lens uses a micro glucose sensor and a wireless transmitter to monitor blood sugar levels to allow diabetics to regulate those levels with insulin without their fingertips showing the wears and tear or those painful needle jabs.
The prototype, which Google says will take at least five years to reach consumers, is one of several medical devices being designed by companies to make glucose monitoring for diabetic patients more convenient and less invasive .
Dr. Brian Otis, the Google X project lead for the smart contact lens at Google’s Silicon Valley headquarters, says, “We’ve had to work really hard to develop tiny, low-powered electronics that operate on low levels of energy and really small glucose sensors”
Although it looks like a typical contact lens, the device contains two twinkling glitter-specks that are loaded with tens of thousands of miniaturized transistors and is ringed with a hair-thin antenna.
While it raises the hopes of people living with diabetes everywhere, Otis says it will likely take about five years to get the lens to market, and writes on the company’s blog that they’re looking for partners on the project.
From the 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. A friend of ours told us she worries about her mom, who once passed out from low blood sugar and drove her car off the road.
Many people I’ve talked to say managing their diabetes is like having a part-time job. Glucose levels change frequently with normal activity like exercising or eating or even sweating. Sudden spikes or precipitous drops are dangerous and not uncommon, requiring round-the-clock monitoring. 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. It’s disruptive, and it’s painful. And, as a result, many people with diabetes check their blood glucose less often than they should.
Over the years, many scientists have investigated various body fluids—such as tears—in the hopes of finding an easier way for people to track their glucose levels. But as you can imagine, tears are hard to collect and study. At Google[x], we wondered if miniaturized electronics—think: chips and sensors so small they look like bits of glitter, and an antenna thinner than a human hair—might be a way to crack the mystery of tear glucose and measure it with greater accuracy.
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. 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. 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. We’ve always said that we’d seek out projects that seem a bit speculative or strange, and at a time when the International Diabetes Federation (PDF) is declaring that the world is “losing the battle” against diabetes, we thought this project was worth a shot.
Posted by Brian Otis and Babak Parviz, project co-founders