How Is Google Helping With Diabetes?
Posted on March 01, 2022 at 03PM
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How Is Google Helping With Diabetes?
People who are diabetic have to constantly monitor their blood glucose levels and use insulin when necessary. But what if you could regulate insulin secretion simply by wearing contact lenses?
In January 2014, Google filed a patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for a digital, multi-sensor contact lens that can detect glucose levels in tears.
While it’s not a new trend to use wearable devices to monitor various body functions like blood sugar levels, the Google lens could be a lifesaver for millions of diabetics who have to pierce their fingers up to ten times a day to collect their blood.
The contact lenses, according to Google, use a tiny glucose sensor and a wireless transmitter to let the world’s 382 million diabetics modify their insulin dose by keeping a careful eye on their blood sugar. It eliminates the need to have to pierce their fingers several times a day to collect blood.
With the development, keeping blood sugar levels stable throughout the day and preventing spikes or lulls during sleep would no longer be a matter of chance.
How It Works:
The lens uses a tiny wireless chip and a miniature blood-sugar sensor placed between two layers of soft contact lens material and a pinhole in the lens that allows tear fluid to seep into the sensor, enabling blood sugar level measurement.
The lens also has a wireless antenna the size of a human hair that will act as a controller to send data to the wireless device.
Google engineers contemplated including LED lights that would illuminate when glucose is at dangerous levels, but decided against it since LEDs contain arsenic, which could be harmful to the wearer.
The contact lenses could check blood sugar every second and tell when the blood sugar levels are too high or too low.
Research and Development
Contact lens research began several years ago at the University of Washington by scientists supported by the National Science Foundation. Their work was, however, kept under wraps until Google shared the study with The Associated Press.
The Progress So Far!
Google claimed to be working with the FDA to develop these prototypes into real products and to bring this technology to market.
The company estimated that it will take at least five years for the product to reach consumers. It first allocated the task of developing the lens to GoogleX, the company’s “moonshot” unit. However, it was later assigned to Verily, Alphabet’s healthcare spin-off.
To develop it for use in healthcare, Verily teamed with Alcon, a subsidiary of pharma corporation Novartis Eye Care. They hoped that by having a pharma partner with experience in eye products, they could get the product to market more quickly and solve regulatory concerns.
However, in November 2018, Verily, in collaboration with Alcon, announced that they were putting the product on hold.
The statement from Verily reads, “The clinical study on the glucose-sensing lens indicated that our measurements of the association between tear glucose and blood glucose concentrations were insufficiently consistent to fulfill the requirements of a medical device.”
They said it was difficult to collect tear molecules in the eye environment to accurately read glucose levels due to interference from biomolecules in tears.
Google’s initial objective is, however, still on the table. Hopefully, they’ll start working on the project again.
Google’s Other Diabetes Innovations
Google is involved in helping make life easier for people with various conditions, including diabetes. One of their top innovations to help people with diabetes was the WellWithDiabetes Assistant.
The WellWithDiabetes Assistant is a personal voice-recognition (VR) assistant app that can be downloaded to any smartphone to make it easier for diabetics to cook nutritious, balanced meals while also keeping track of their carbohydrate intake.
Diabetics can use the app to ask questions and get answers quickly so they can be sure they’re eating the right meal. For instance, you can ask the WellWithDiabetes Assistant about the number of calories in a fruit, the carb content of a meal, and a lot more.
The contact lenses developed by Google aren’t the only ones to be used for health checks. Several attempts have been made in recent years to develop contact lenses that could make life easier for diabetics.
In 2016, Sensimed, a Swiss startup, developed an FDA-approved contact lens to monitor ocular pressure in people with glaucoma.
More recently, a group of researchers from South Korea’s Pohang University of Science and Technology developed a lens with a chip-based device that monitors sugar levels through blood vessels below the eyelids and alerts the user to potential health problems.
Professor Sei Kwang Hahn and two graduate students, Do Hee Keum and Su-Kyoung Kim, from POSTECH’s Department of Electronics and Electrical Engineering, made a wirelessly powered smart contact lens that can diagnose and treat diabetes by controlling drug delivery with electrical signals.
The team’s smart contact lenses are made of biocompatible polymers and have biosensors, drug delivery systems, and data communication systems in them.
In their research, they put lenses in the eyes of living diabetic rabbits and injected two units of insulin 15 minutes later to reduce their blood glucose levels.
They then tracked the changes and repeated the test after the lenses had been worn for 63 days to show that they could stay stable over time. Then, the researchers used the lenses to send Genistein, a drug for diabetes, to the rabbits’ eyes remotely.
After one hour, they tested the levels in the cornea and discovered that the lens delivered the medicine just as well as an eye injection.
Dr. Keum and her team also used an infrared thermal camera to check the design for safety. They found no difference in the temperature of the lens.
Despite the massive feat, the team says that more research will be needed to see if this smart contact lens can be used as a next-generation wearable gadget to improve diabetes care.
Although there aren’t currently any smart lenses in the market for tracking glucose levels, several attempts are being made to make them a reality. Hopefully, we will soon have a market-ready device that can help people with diabetes easily monitor their glucose levels.
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