Blood and tears at DAC

BY PETE SINGER, Editor-in-Chief

At this year’s Design Automation Conference (DAC) in San Francisco, Brian Otis, a Director at Google, talked about how hundreds of millions of people are at risk of diabetes – and how a smart contact lens that continuously monitors blood glucose levels and transmits the data to a smartphone might just be the ideal solution.

There is a good correlation between your glucose levels in tears and that in blood (although it’s a factor of magnitude lower), so a smart contact lens can measure glucose levels using a wireless chip and miniaturized glucose sensor. The devices are embedded between two layers of soft contact lens material.

Google announced the smart lens project in January of 2014, at which time multiple clinical studies had been completed. A partnership was subsequently announced with Novartis’s Alcon eye-care division in July of 2014.

Otis said that the universe of people who are either bona fide pre-diabetic or at risk is huge. “It’s hundreds of millions of people,” he said. “Our hypothesis is that if we are able to create more comfortable CGMs (continuous glucose monitors), this will significantly impact the diabetes management problem we’re facing. No one has solved this problem yet, but we really want to do this because it could improve people’s lives,” he said.

A smart contact lens could solve the problem because it’s a wearable device that many millions of people already wear on a daily basis. “If there is an option of wearing the device that many people wear, that’s comfortable and also corrects your vision and gives you this valuable information, you’re likely to do that over than, let’s say, pricking your finger,” Otis said.

Otis described smart contact lenses as not just another gadget. “It’s really part of an ecosystem that can form a new type of proactive healthcare. We’re going to work really hard on that,” he said.

What makes this all possible, of course, is the work that the semiconductor industry has done in minia- turization over the last several decades. Otis said more work is needed: “The chips, the passive components, the power supplies, the antennas: Everything needs to shrink,” he said.

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