Google Unveils Smart Contact Lenses That Double as a Non-Invasive Glucometer

1-19-2014 11-33-16 AM

Google made headlines last week when reporters noted that members of its highly secretive Google X labs were scheduled to meet with representatives from the FDA’s medical devices group, and their eyewear group. The meeting was published on the FDA’s public calendar, but little details were made available.

That changed Thursday, when the company introduced the world to their new smart contact lenses. The lenses are designed to do one thing, measure glucose levels in a wearers tears, and alert them of changes. This is Google’s first foray into designing and manufacturing a medical device, and there is a long road ahead before the contact lenses are FDA approved, but the lenses offer a significant quality of life enhancement to those struggling with diabetes.

The World Health Organization reports that 341 million people have diabetes worldwide. In the US, 25 million live with the condition – that’s 8 percent of the overall population. In order to manage their disease, diabetics have to prick their fingers several times a day to test blood glucose levels, a process that is painful and burdensome. Glucose levels change frequently depending on a wide variety of conditions, and blood testing is often not done frequently enough.

Google’s lenses are designed to check glucose once-per-second using miniaturized sensors and an antenna the size of a human hair. When glucose goes beyond an acceptable range, the lenses will either transmit an alert to a paired smartphone or device, or else it will light an on board LED to alert the wearer of the situation.

The race to develop and mass market a non-invasive glucometer is not new. Big Pharma and academic researchers have invested billions in R&D looking for a better way of accurately tracking glucose levels. In December, two emergency physicians at the Hospital of Central Connecticut launched a startup called iQuickIt that is working to develop a no-pain glucometer. That device uses saliva instead of blood.

In England, the Royal Berkshire Hospital and the University of Reading are also focusing on the eye. They are testing a prototype uses high definition pictures of the eye to calculate blood glucose levels.

Swiss-based Sensimed has been making a contact lens-based glucometer for years, that is already in use in Europe. The device looks remarkably similar to Google’s contact lenses, but is not yet FDA approved for US use.

With their talent and resources, Google is in a good position to compete against the current body of academic researchers and startups working in the non-invasive blood glucometer market. The overall glucometer market was valued at $8.9 billion in 2010, and is expected to grow to $12 billion by 2017, driven largely from predicted increases in overall prevalence of diabetes.

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