Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) announced a new product Thursday on its blog that brings to mind a science fiction novel: a “smart” contact lens with the ability to help diabetics monitor and control their blood sugar.
In order to check their glucose levels currently, diabetics must prick their finger and test drops of blood throughout the day. But the practice, which many find disrupts their day in addition to being painful, means that a number of people don’t check their blood sugar levels nearly as much as they should.
Google‘s contact lens, in contrast to conventional ways of monitoring glucose, uses tears rather than blood samples to measure blood sugar. Scientists have long thought that tears and other body fluids could provide alternative ways to measure glucose levels. The problem, of course, is that unless a patient can cry on demand, tears are difficult to collect and study. According the company’s blog, Google speculated that super-miniaturized electronics could be “a way to crack the mystery of tear glucose and measure it with greater accuracy.”
Google is currently testing prototypes of the lenses, which function using a tiny wireless chip and a miniature glucose sensor. The wireless chip is embedded in two delicate layers of contact lens material, according to TechCrunch and the Google blog. The current prototypes can test for glucose and generate a reading once per second, an impressive step up from the few times a day that most diabetics test their levels.
Google also speculates that the technology could help give diabetics an early warning sign if their levels are beginning to dip, and they’ve considered options such as “tiny LED lights,” which would light up in order to indicate that the wearer’s glucose levels have dropped below or risen above safe levels.
The company writes that it has completed “multiple clinical research studies” so far, which have helped developers hone the current prototype. While it’s safe to say that glucose-reading contact lens are still a fairly far-off reality, Google noted in its blog post that it is currently in talks with the Food and Drug Administration and that the company plans to look for partners and experts to help carry the project forward.