There is big news for diabetics. Google is preparing to enter the medical market with a bio-engineered contact lens designed to measure glucose levels in tears. Though the device is currently in the prototype stage and won’t likely hit the market for another five years, there’s already growing buzz about the latest new wearable device.
While some remain skeptical about a technology firm entering the medical market, few can deny the ground-breaking and innovative nature of this exciting new product. Designed to replace the need for traditional monitoring systems that rely on needles, Google’s smart contact lens could bring big changes for the 382 million people that are currently living with diabetes.
A modern-day marvel of medical engineering, the smart lens is fitted with tiny antenna and pinhole that allow tear fluid to seep over a miniature-sized glucose monitor. It’s powered by energy from incoming radio frequency waves, takes one reading per second and continuously transmits this data to a handheld device using a wireless technology known as RFID. The handheld device then analyzes the data and tells the user exactly how much insulin they need. Unlike traditional needle-based testing, the smart lens is designed to be painless, non-invasive and highly convenient. As a result of these improvements, researchers hope the smart lens will lead to more consistent and effective diabetes management.
Though it sounds like a major breakthrough, medical experts warn that Google will have to complete rigorous testing to ensure the device provides accurate and reliable data. The lives of diabetics depend on accurate information regarding their glucose levels and the resulting levels of insulin they require. Critics also warn that more work will need to be done to ensure an accurate correlation of glucose levels in tears as compared with blood. Additional concerns have also been voiced regarding how the lens will respond to excess tears resulting from windy days or emotional reactions to life’s ups and downs.
Other critics are more focused on questioning the integrity and safety of the data the smart lens will collect. One question asks what Google will do with the data being collected, and if it will be added to the banks of personal information gathered from Google’s servers. Still others have questioned the security of the data being transmitted and whether it’s safe from people that may wish to tamper with readings and negatively impact the health of users. Google has responded with public assurances that the data collected by smart lenses will never hit their servers, and that the data are secure from tampering by any who may wish to alter the readings.
It’s clear that Google will have to overcome complex hurdles before we can expect to see the smart lens being marketed to the public. In the meantime, Renub Research estimates that the glucose monitoring market is valued at more than 16 billion. Whether Google will be successful in gaining a market share of profit seems less to do with practicality and demand than good old-fashioned science. According to Dr. Christopher Wilson, CEO of NovioSence, “It’s just a question of who gets to market with something that really works first.”
By Erin Sterling