As if Google Glass wasn’t amazing enough, next on the technological horizon is something even better for those of us living with diabetes: contact lenses capable of monitoring our blood-sugar levels.
They’re still years away from the market, but came a little bit closer a few weeks ago, when Google announced a partnership with Swiss pharmaceutical leader Novartis and its eye-care subsidiary in the US, Alcorn, to develop the lenses.
Given that it was just January when Google said it was searching for development partners, this project seems to be moving pretty fast. And on its blog, Google demonstrates a comprehension, not only of the numbers of people affected by diabetes worldwide, but of the enormous challenges that we face.
Here’s what project co-founders Brian Otis and Babak Parviz wrote then:
“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,” they wrote.
The solution, as they see it, is a smart lens that measures glucose levels in tears, possibly even taking a reading every second. If that’s not mind-blowing enough, envision what Google does: “tiny LED lights that could light up to indicate that glucose levels have crossed above or below certain thresholds.” All of this would be enabled in a soft contact lens outfitted with chips and sensors no bigger than a particle of glitter. As it is collected, the data would be transmitted in real-time to a handheld device of the user, or maybe his or her parent or doctor. How great would that be?
But before we sell all our silver and jewelry and go buy Novartis stock, we should know that not everyone is convinced this product is realistic. In an interview with the newspaper USA Today, Robert Ratner, chief scientific and medical officer of the American Diabetes Association, said, “There are no available data to show any reliability of this sensor.”
And Howard Wolpert of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston questioned how smart lens would work at night, since most people who wear contact lenses remove them at night.
Clearly, there are a lot of questions yet to be answered.
In January, Google cautioned that this is not yet a product, but an ambitious vision. But with heavy-hitter Novartis coming on board with the brainpower at Google X – the people responsible for Google Glass and the self-driving car – there’s reason to believe that the vision won’t soon become real.
Of course, even Google and Novartis face the gauntlet of the FDA (just like we did for our Timesulin replacement caps). This could slow things down a bit. But, great products will make their way to the market eventually, and a smart contact lens could be life-changing for millions of people. So we say: Go technology. Go Novartis. Go Google! Here at Timesulin, we like your vision.