Secret no more: Google reveals contact lens glucose monitor

Google has unveiled contact lenses designed to monitor and measure glucose levels in tears, potentially replacing the self-administered blood tests from finger pricks that diabetics must endure on a daily basis, reports an article in the San Jose Mercury News.

The contact lenses, which use a tiny glucose sensor and wireless transmitter, will not be available to consumers until at least 2019. "On closer examination, sandwiched in the lens are two twinkling glitter-specks loaded with tens of thousands of miniaturized transistors," the article states, adding that it is "ringed with a hair-thin antenna."

The article reveals that Google had to build in a system to pull energy from incoming radio frequency waves to power the device enough to collect and transmit one glucose reading per second. 

According to the article, Google is currently "looking for partners who have experience bringing similar products to market." At the same time, Google officials declined to say how many people worked on developing the contact lenses, or how much the Mountain View, Calif.-based company has invested in the project to date.

Last week, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Google employees met with U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials who regulate eye devices and diagnostics for heart conditions. The meeting at FDA headquarters in Silver Spring, Md. was classified by the regulatory agency as a "meet and greet" but beyond that an FDA spokeswoman declined to provide further information.

It was disclosed, however, that some of the Google employees that attended the meeting have done research on sensors, including contact lenses that help wearers monitor their biological data. Google Glass and other products are being developed by the company's Google X lab, in order to expand beyond its core search engine business.

The contact lenses just announced by the company were developed over the past 18 months in the Google X lab, which also came up with a driverless car and Project Loon, a network of large balloons designed to beam the Internet to unwired areas. Still, research on the contact lenses began several years earlier at the University of Washington, where scientists worked under National Science Foundation funding, according to the article.

However, Google is not without competition in the area of needle-less glucose monitoring systems. Netherlands-based NovioSense is developing a similar contact lens with a minuscule, flexible spring that is tucked under an eyelid. In addition, Israel-based OrSense has tested a thumb cuff, and there have been early designs for tattoos and saliva sensors. Moreover, the FDA in 2001 approved a wristwatch monitor, but patients said the "low level electric currents pulling fluid from their skin was painful, and it was buggy," the article reports.

"There are a lot of people who have big promises," Christopher Wilson, CEO of NovioSense, is quoted as saying in the article. "It's just a question of who gets to market with something that really works first."

Earlier this month, the FDA issued draft guidance distinguishing between prescription blood glucose meters intended for use in point-of-care professional healthcare settings and over-the-counter blood glucose meters for consumers. The regulatory agency came up with the recommendations after concerns were raised about infection control issues related to point-of-care glucose meters as well as the inability of currently cleared blood glucose monitoring test systems to perform effectively in professional healthcare settings.

To learn more:

- read the article