Diabetes is one of the fastest growing medical conditions in the US. According to the American Diabetes Association with the current trend of diagnosis, approximately one in three people will have this disease by 2050. Currently there are 79 million people in the US that have pre-diabetes that are not aware of their condition. There are a growing number of companies such as Google that are developing new technologies for diabetics to monitor glucose levels, with the search giant now entering the fray with a new innovative contact lens.
The traditional treatments for testing are painful with blood testing via pricking the fingers multiple times a day being the norm for millions of people. Google along with other companies like NovioSense and OrSense based in the Netherlands and Israel respectively are delving into new and exciting ways for diabetes sufferers to be able to monitor blood sugar levels without pain.
The search giant and NovioSense separately have been working on a contact lens that a person can wear that will monitor glucose levels from the patient’s own tears. The Google contact lens has a small antennae that transmits the information from the tears to a device that the customer would wear, such a smart phone. The NovioSense lens has a miniature flexible spring that is located under the persons eyelid for monitoring.
Google researchers are working on how testing diabetics tears compares to traditional blood testing. There are a number of factors that can add additional challenges for this new concept of managing glucose levels. Concerns include instances when a person is wearing the contact lens and performs a task such as cutting up foods like onions, or experiencing emotions that will flood the contact. With a sudden onslaught of tears, how the lens will monitor glucose levels effectively is something that needs to be studied in more detail with this prototype.
The device would have an additional drawback as customers that currently wear contact lenses to correct vision will have to wear glasses while the lens is in place. The contact lens electronics do not affect a customer’s vision as the minuscule wiring is placed outside of the iris.
The Google team is looking into the possibility of placing a small LED light on the lens that would be only visible to the person wearing it. This would change color to alert the wearer if their glucose levels were high, low or in normal ranges. The unique challenge to this comes in the form of metal arsenic that is contained in the LED light. The positive side to this light is that it would allow the wearer to not have to be connected to any other devices like a smart phone. All the information would be with the lens itself allowing more freedom for the user from additional costs of purchasing additional equipment.
OrSense has developed a thumb cuff design instead of a contact lens that has been in testing. Saliva sensors and tattoos have some early designs on the table as well. A monitoring device in the form of a wristwatch was approved by the FDA 13 years ago, however, users noted that the process of extracting fluid with the watch was painful with the instrument being buggy.
As with any new medical device, stringent testing must be conducted demonstrating that any new product is as accurate as methods that are currently being used today, and safe for use by consumers.
With numbers of diabetes growing, so does the need for new and innovative ways to test and monitor glucose levels. Companies like Google, NovioSense, and OrSense are leading the way with new technologies from contact lenses to thumb cuffs to offer options for diabetics in the near future.
By Dorothy McVay