People suffering from diabetes need to make regular checks of their glucose levels, a procedure that normally involves pricking a finger and letting a little blood fall on a test strip.
One day, contact lens-based glucose readers could do away with this inconvenience. The lens would monitor tears for sugars and interact with a smartphone device to keep logs for sufferers and their carers.
“Would” because the product isn’t yet on the market. Several groups, including Novartis, which has licensed Google technology, are working on the idea. But it may be a few years at minimum before a release date.
We caught up with Medella Health, a young startup in Canada that’s developing a contact lens complete with sensors and a very small antenna.
“We wanted to make diabetes management something that you can put on essentially forget about,” says co-founder Harry Gandhi. “If your level is too high or too low, you’ll get a notification on your phone before anything serious happens.”
Gandhi formed Medella with two friends from the University of Waterloo, Huayi Gao and Maarij Baig. Each has had personal experience with diabetes management. “We all knew that diabetics are embarrassed about how having to excuse themselves, go the bathroom and prick themselves, and clean the blood up.”
The “mini-machine” fits inside a contact lens, so users don’t notice they’re measuring themselves while looking at the world. It could potentially offer an early warning system before patients become ill and possibly reduce the need for formal health care. But Gandhi says it could be several years before Medella makes it through clinical trials.
There remains uncertainty about the usability of tears, and the accuracy of the measurements, according to experts. Moreover, inserting a device inside the lens inevitably changes its shape, affects its optical qualities, and makes for a heavier product.
“There are groups today that spend millions of dollars perfecting that comfort,” Gandhi says. “We believe that we can get to that level, but it’s all about how we integrate our micro-machine into the contact lens.”
Medella has a long road ahead of it, though it’s convinced that a contact lens solution is far superior to today’s tests. If it can make a reliable product, it will surely be right.