New Contact Lenses May Soon Allow Diabetics to Monitor Glucose Levels With Just the Blinks of Their Eyes

An innovative new smart contact lens is being developed to allow diabetics to monitor glucose levels through liquid in their eyes.

The invention, which is wireless and remotely operated, means glucose levels could soon be monitored in the blink of an eye—and even be treated with medicine dispensed directly into the membrane.

Scientists say that the new tech represents the first potential use of contact lenses to monitor and treat symptoms of diabetes with a remote control drug dispenser.

It comes after Google’s failed attempts to develop the Google Contact Lens for diagnosing diabetic patients, which was discontinued in 2018.

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Researchers say the eyewear could provide an alternative to invasive blood tests for diabetics while simultaneously paving the way toward on-demand treatment for certain eye diseases.

The device uses chip technology to monitor sugar levels through the blood vessels behind the eyelids and warn the user of potential health emergencies. It could also dispense medicine through the eye to treat diabetic retinopathy, a diabetes-related condition caused by damage to the ocular blood vessels.

When tested in rabbits, the lens offered noninvasive glucose monitoring and controlled drug delivery for the condition.

“We developed smart contact lenses for both continuous glucose monitoring and treatment of diabetic retinopathy,” said study author Dr. Do Hee Keum from Pohang University of Science and Technology in South Korea. “Our smart contact lens has a unique function of ocular drug delivery.

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“With further development and testing, the smart contact lens could relieve diabetics from relying on invasive blood tests while potentially paving the way toward on-demand treatment of retinopathy and other eye disease.”

Smart electronic contact lens devices have been widely investigated for diagnostic applications, especially for continuous glucose monitoring. In 2014, Google announced a project to develop the Google Contact Lens for helping people with diabetes measure their glucose levels through their tears.

Despite intensive effort for the commercial development of the Google lens, however, the team reported insufficient consistency in their measurements between tear glucose and blood glucose concentrations to support the requirements of a medical device.

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“The disappointing clinical results might be associated with the challenges of obtaining reliable tear glucose readings in the complex on-eye environment,” said Dr. Keum. “We believe that with proper calibration and baseline monitoring, the changes in glucose concentrations can be measured reliably for each patient using the smart contact lens.”

The team says that they were inspired to develop the lens upon discovering that the surface of the cornea offers a convenient window to monitor physiological changes throughout the body.

“The surface of the cornea uniquely presents a convenient and noninvasive interface to physiological conditions in the human body,” said Dr. Keum. “The eyes are directly connected to the brain, liver, heart, lung, and kidney and can serve as a window to the body.”

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Since the researchers wanted to design a model that could both perform this function and dispense drugs through the eye, they developed a smart contact lens that includes a real time electrochemical biosensor, an on-demand flexible drug delivery system, a wireless energy transfer system, and a remote radio frequency communication system.

In the study, they inserted lenses into the eyes of live diabetic rabbits and injected two units of insulin 15 minutes later to lower the rabbits’ blood glucose levels.

They then monitored the changes and repeated the test after the lenses were used for 63 days to demonstrate their ability to remain stable over time. Next, the researchers used the lenses to remotely release genistein—a drug used to treat diabetes—into the rabbits’ eyes.

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Upon measuring the concentration in the cornea one hour later, they found the lens delivered the drug as effectively as an eye injection.

Dr. Keum and her team also used an infrared thermal camera to test the design for safety and found little variation in the lens’ temperature.

However, the scientists say that additional research is required to reveal whether this smart contact lens may serve as a next-generation wearable device to advance diabetes healthcare.

“This smart theranostic contact lens will be investigated further as a next generation wearable device to achieve the real-time biosensing of ocular biomarkers and on-demand medication for ubiquitous health care applications to various ocular and other diseases,” said Dr. Keum.

Representative photo by איתן טל, CC

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