Diabetes monitoring contact lenses

This morning I saw the news that Google have shown off a smart contact lens for blood sugar monitoring – wearable technology at its best!

While pregnant with my first child I developed gestational diabetes: a temporary form of diabetes that occurs in pregnancy, and normally disappears when the baby is born. I had to do blood sugar tests 4 times a day, which meant pricking my finger each time to get a drop of blood, and ended up having to inject insulin. The idea of injecting insulin may sound scary, but actually I found the routine blood sugar tests hurt far more than the insulin injections.

Monitoring blood sugar levels directly is a reliable way to manage diabetes. Yet, scientists have figured out that  other bodily fluids are also useful in monitoring blood sugar. Rather than directly measure sugar in the blood, it might be more convenient to measure sugar in something else. Yet, any sensor has to also be discreet and easy to use as those with diabetes need to use it regularly. It turns out that the sugar level in tears is highly correlated with that in blood, making a smart contact lens the obvious choice for constant blood sugar monitoring.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard about using contact lenses for monitoring. Last year I saw a talk by Professor Chris Lowe who talked about the possibility using sensors developed at Cambridge University, and in his company Smart Holographics. They’ve been working on smart sensors for, amongst other things, diabetes management.

Full-time diabetes management is hard work as sugar levels are unpredictable, and are affected not only by what you eat but your activity levels too. Spikes and sudden drops are common, and can be dangerous if uncontrolled. Anything that makes blood sugar monitoring easier will almost certainly improve the lives of many around the world with diabetes. The biggest problem will be bringing it to market.

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