For People With Diabetes, Contacts With a Twist

Technology now under development would allow people with diabetes to monitor their blood sugar through their contact lenses. Researcher Babak Parviz of the University of Washington in Seattle invented the lenses, which monitor the amount of glucose in tear fluid. That fluid tracks blood glucose levels closely, and Parviz hopes to have the lenses communicate wirelessly with some sort of auxiliary meter.

Parviz and fellow researchers have already proven they can shrink light-emitting diodes ( LEDs) and attach them to a contact lens. On-lens microtechnology that monitors glucose followed. On a basic level, the technology works because tear fluid has sugar levels nearly identical to those of blood. However, you won’t be able to go into a doctor’s office and ask for these devices any time soon. “There’s still a lot more testing we have to do,” Parviz said.

Taking a step back, the glucose monitoring and LED technology could eventually be merged. That means that contact lenses wouldn’t just monitor your blood sugar — they could also show it to you. Your field of vision could merge real life and computer information. The two types of tiny circuitry haven’t yet been fused into a single lens, but Parviz sounded confident that a high-quality display is possible. “You won’t necessarily have to shift your focus to see the image generated by the contact lens,” he said.

People with diabetes aren’t the only patients who stand to benefit from breakthroughs in contact lens technology. In September 2010, the Swiss company Sensimed started marketing a smart lens for glaucoma patients. The “Triggerfish” lens monitors eye pressure, which can permanently harm these patients’ vision. It’s worn for 24 hours only and gives doctors a look at pressure variances throughout the day. The process is repeated two to three times a year.

What do physicians do with the information? It turns out that correctly timing glaucoma medication is crucial. That data let patients know when to take their drugs throughout the day — and preserve their vision.

Parviz talked about his work at the IEEE MEMS 2011 conference in Cancún, Mexico, earlier this year.


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