Breaking newsIt’s unusual that a smart contact lens that measures blood glucose makes lead worldwide news while it is still in clinical studies, but when it is from Google, The Gimlet Eye wants to be the first to try it.
Google’s blog and a single interview they granted to the Associated Press have confirmed the earlier rumor on a blood glucose-measuring contact that first appeared last Friday [TTA 10 January; item from FierceMedicalDevices in the 4th paragraph, Google’s meeting with FDA on a powered contact lens]. The AP article also confirmed its genesis in University of Washington/NSF research. The Google lens under development might have tiny LED lights that visually advise the wearer on their glucose levels, as well as transmit the information via a wireless chip. Last week’s speculation was on a Google Glass-like display à la iOptik.
Research specifically directed towards continual monitoring of the blood glucose in tears has been ongoing and other companies have developed powered lenses. A key question is the equivalence and accuracy of monitoring tears versus blood. In the March 2011 article linked to the 10 January item, we picked up this research in an obscure 2011 or 2010 article on the ABC News website on Sanford Ascher, a professor of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh, presenting a study of “photonic crystals” which change color and their use in a lens. Other companies are further along in bringing to market a lens that is powered and worn temporarily to measure intra-ocular pressure for glaucoma (Sensormed Triggerfish, TTA 31 July 13). Eye diagnostics in general is a hot area for clinical mHealth [TTA 23 Aug 13]. For Google to announce this is of course a teaser; it will be a long time to market as this novel lens will require FDA premarket approval, but the fact that their meeting with FDA was leaked and that it’s now being blogged confirms a certain level of seriousness.
AP (in Washington Post) clearly had an inside track to the normally secretive Google X Lab with researcher interviews. New: a further WaPo discussion expands it to privacy issues. Obviously they Googled the issue because the X Lab briefed Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy & Technology before the Thursday announcement and insisted that the data will never go to Google-land. (So we can take this to the bank?) Also steps are being taken to secure the data from the lens–a ‘black hat hacking’ technique which can have fatal consequences (similar to concerns about programmable heart pacemakers.) Hat tip on the last to new reader Fard Johnmar, founder of US consultancy Enspektos.
Google’s blog published Thursday via TechCrunch, which has a quick overview. BBC News brings in Frost & Sullivan, global diabetes projected to be worldwide at 10 percent by 2035, and the wearable sector expected to grow to $10 -$50 billion (£6bn and £31bn) in the next five years.
(Updated) A diabetic writing in Gigaom scores Google for tone deafness: first that contact lenses are often contraindicated for diabetics, and second, that contacts, in the writer’s words, “will still be quite expensive for many of the world’s poor, diabetic patients (so) why not focus all monetary and intellectual energies towards developing a more simpler solution that can be built at scale, very cheaply?” There is an assumption that this is the only thing that Google X is working on in this area; au contraire, as mentioned before, they are highly secretive and this disclosure was surprising, perhaps strategic with FDA. (IDF.org statistics) Diabetes already affects 382 million people worldwide, in every country (yes, disproportionately in low/middle-income). 40-59 year olds in middle to high-income countries who are affected also may already wear contact lenses and continue to do so. Another way of looking at it: certainly the technology developed here if proven can be replicated and modified cheaply in other devices, for example (in your Editor’s mind) a throwaway tester using tears rather than blood. And contact lens technology can be used for other types of monitoring, e.g. eye pressure, drug delivery and the like.