The future is now—or at least almost. Researchers with the Ulsan National Institute and Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea have developed a new, more viable version of the glucose-monitoring contact lens.
If all goes well, the lens could be commercially viable in the next 5 years (according to the study published in January of 2018).
Considering that people with diabetes are already at a higher risk for eye complications, they may be hesitant to wear a glucose monitor in their eye. But then again, this lens could provide near real-time glucose monitoring without finger pricking or bulky equipment. And it’s transparent, so not only does it not block your vision, but it goes with everything.
Previous versions of the smart contact lens had the issues you might expect: the components used in the lens partially blocked vision, caused discomfort, and were not flexible enough to be safe or realistic for use in the human eye. This time around, researchers wanted to focus efforts on making a soft, comfortable lense that could both reliably measure glucose levels and allow the wearer unobstructed vision.
The latest smart contact features glucose sensors, wireless power transfer circuits, and display pixels all created with transparent and flexible nanostructures. The structures are encapsulated in soft, flexible polymer. The sensors measure glucose levels using a person’s tears produced from normal secretion and blinking (no crying required) and provide results on the lens’ LED display. A display light alerts the wearer to a high or a low. Because the LED display is carried right on your eye, there is no need for bulky measurement equipment.
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The downside is that, because of the lag time between blood glucose and tear glucose, the contact’s reading will be about 10 to 20 minutes behind what a finger prick reading would show. Perhaps a later version of the contact will be able to address the lag time issue.
Despite the lag time, the advantages of an almost real-time, noninvasive glucose monitor are obvious. The disadvantage is that the wearer may feel like a cyborg.
The lens is currently going through live testing, and if all goes well, and funding continues, researchers hope to have a commercial product available within 5 years. The team’s next endeavor will be to develop a lens that could potentially monitor other chronic illnesses.
We’d love to have a glucose monitor powered by the tears produced from nothing more than blinking. We’ll keep an eye out.
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