Tears of Joy: Google’s “Smart” Contact Lens Glucometer

Jan 31, 2014

The dreaded finger stick. Every nursing student remembers performing their first one on a patient. It involves a spring-loaded sharp lancet which pricks a small hole in the patient’s finger, from which a drop of blood is drawn and tested for its blood sugar level with a handheld device. It’s a way of life for many diabetics, who may require testing their blood sugar several times a day. This means enduring thousands of finger sticks over the course of years, a cumbersome and painful reminder of this chronic disease.

However, this invasive test may become a thing of the past. Yesterday, Google announced that it has developed a prototype of a soft contact lens that has the ability to monitor glucose levels in tears. The smart lenses then are designed to wirelessly transmit the information, most likely to alert the wearer when his or her blood glucose level is too high or low. This brings about many possibilities for tracking this information, as well.

Currently, Google is still conducting trials to study the safety and efficacy of these smart contact lenses, and meeting with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about some obvious concerns, such as the possible danger of having electronics in such close proximity to the eye.

If this device comes to market, and is affordable, it could have far-reaching impacts on the way diabetes is managed. Diabetes is a chronic disease that relies on diligent self-management to reduce the likelihood of developing such complications as blindness, kidney and cardiac disease, and neuropathic pain. As you can imagine, given the invasiveness and unpleasantness of daily finger sticks, many diabetics are deemed “non-adherent” with blood sugar monitoring, which greatly increases the risk of diabetic complications.

Perhaps reducing the cost of managing diabetic complications will prove to be a strong enough impetus for insurers to provide coverage for a smart contact lens - another wearable device that exemplifies the concept of “connected health”.

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