Back in 2016, we spoke about a sock that was developed by a Sri Lankan that can be used to detect diabetes. Well, adding to that, a group of scientists from Korea has designed a smart contact lens. No this doesn’t give you a heads up display like Iron Man. But rather, it does something equally important. It can be used to measure the blood sugar of the wearer without the use of a needle.
In case you’re wondering, measuring the blood sugar levels of living beings without the use of a needle has only been done on rabbits. Rather than using needles (which a startling number of people seem to be afraid of), the smart contact lens would theoretically be able to measure blood sugar by analyzing the tears of the user. It’s not clear whether the results would be accurate, but if it is plausible, then that would certainly benefit those with diabetes.
How does the smart contact lens work?
According to the scientists, the lens is developed using the same transparent, flexible material already in some soft contact lenses available in the market. Inside the lens, you would find a plethora of embedded electronic sensors such as a glucose sensor and a minuscule LED as well. If your glucose level rises above a predefined level, the LED would blink continuously, alerting the wearer that his/her blood sugar or blood glucose level is high.
Putting the smart contact lens to the test
Led by Jang-Ung Park, the scientists at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in the Republic of Korea carried out preliminary testing on the smart contact lens using artificial tears that had increased levels of sugar in an attempt to copy how low glucose levels would be. They also carried out the tests on some very brave rabbits.
The result? The LED remained lit until the scientists squirted a glucose solution into the rabbit’s eye. Immediately after, the LED turned off. It should also be noted that no rabbits were harmed during these experiments. Thus far, however, the device has not been tested on a real human eye or real human tears.
The smart contact lens is the latest endeavor to come up with a needle-less solution to monitor for diabetes. At present, the two primary methods for monitoring blood glucose are either by drawing blood by pricking a finger or inserting a needle under the skin. The latter is used to measure the glucose in the fluid between cells. They are both not exactly a walk in the park and can be unpleasant, especially if you have a nerve-wracking fear of needles (like I do). For this reason, companies have been on the lookout to develop needleless solutions.
There are a few drawbacks though
According to John L. Smith, the former chief scientific officer of Johnson & Johnson’s glucose monitoring division, adding circuitry on something like a contact lens is indeed an impressive feat. Although Smith also adds that it’s questionable whether the readings received from human tears is reflective enough to actually diagnose people with diabetes. It’s an unreliable measure of blood glucose.
Smith, the author of The Pursuit of Noninvasive Glucose: Hunting the Deceitful Turkey also added that measuring blood glucose much be done with great care because you’re playing around with people’s lives. Indeed, the complications of Diabetes can range from a number of diseases, loss of limbs due to amputation and even death.
The levels of glucose in tears is not just good enough when compared to the levels of glucose in blood when monitoring for diabetes, Smith says. According to a paper from the 1980’s, out of 100 patients tested, there was no noteworthy connection between the glucose level of blood and tears. That won’t deter Jang-Ung Park and his team who are already working with a hospital to start clinical trials. Hopefully, the team can overcome these obstacles and make the process of monitoring blood glucose an easier and more comfortable thing to do.