Google has unveiled a contact lens that could end the ordeal of millions of diabetics who jab their fingers up to 10 times a day to test their blood sugar.
The prototype, that monitors glucose levels in tears, is one of several medical devices being designed by companies to make glucose testing for diabetics more convenient and less invasive than the traditional finger pricks.
Google says it will take at least five years to reach consumers.
The lenses use a minuscule glucose sensor and a wireless transmitter to help those who are among the world’s 382 million diabetics who need insulin keep a close watch on their blood sugar and adjust their dose.
The contact lenses were developed during the past 18 months in the clandestine Google X lab that also came up with a driverless car, Google’s web-surfing glasses and Project Loon, a network of large balloons designed to beam the Internet to unwired places.
But research on the contact lenses began several years earlier at the University of Washington, where scientists worked under National Science Foundation funding.
“You can take it to a certain level in an academic setting, but at Google we were given the latitude to invest in this project,” said one of the lead researchers, Brian Otis.
“The beautiful thing is we’re leveraging all of the innovation in the semiconductor industry that was aimed at making cellphones smaller and more powerful.”
American Diabetes Association board chairman Dwight Holing said he was pleased that creative scientists were searching for solutions for people with diabetes but warned that the device must provide accurate and timely information.
“People with diabetes base very important health care decisions on the data we get from our monitors,” he said.
The device looked like a typical contact lens when Mr Otis held one on his index finger. On closer examination, sandwiched in the lens are two twinkling glitter-specks loaded with tens of thousands of miniaturised transistors. It is ringed with a hair-thin antenna.
“It doesn’t look like much, but it was a crazy amount of work to get everything so very small,” Mr Otis said at Google’s Silicon Valley headquarters.
It took years of soldering hair-thin wires to miniaturise electronics, essentially building tiny chips from scratch, to make what Mr Otis said is the smallest wireless glucose sensor made.
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