Medical Discovery News
By Drs. David Niesel and Norbert Herzog

Like the wearable glasses-style computer called Google Glass, Google Inc. has invented another new device for your eyes: a contact lens that measures blood sugar levels in the wearer’s tears.

Who needs to measure their blood sugar? The answer: the 26 million people (8.3 percent of the U.S. population) who have diabetes. Currently, diabetics must poke their fingertips, or a few other locations, with a needle called a lancet and place a drop of blood on a test strip that’s inserted into a blood sugar monitor. Many diabetics must repeat this multiple times a day, adding up to a lot of pokes — not to mention the cost of each test strip and lancet. But maintaining a healthy level of glucose, the basic sugar that is used by all cells of the body for energy, is crucial for people with diabetes.

Diabetes is a group of diseases characterized by high levels of glucose in the blood. It occurs because the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin or the rest of the cells in the body do not respond properly to insulin or both. Insulin efficiently gets glucose into cells. Without it, glucose builds up and some of it is excreted in urine while the body’s cells are starved of this key nutrient.

If diabetics misjudge the amount of sugar in their meals and take too much insulin, the sugar levels in their blood will fall, causing headaches, sweating, blurred vision, trembling, confusion and loss of consciousness. If left untreated, this hypoglycemia can cause permanent neurological damage and death. On the other hand, too much glucose in the blood causes symptoms of increased thirst, urination, hunger and weight loss. However, in the long-term, it can lead to blindness, kidney failure and amputation. Hyperglycemia also increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

The new contact lens Google is developing has tiny wireless chips and a glucose sensor embedded between two soft contact lenses. That does not sound like something you’d want in your eye, but the electronics are so small they look like glitter and the antenna is thinner than a strand of human hair. It can take sugar readings from tears once every second. Google is also incorporating tiny LED lights that would alert the wearer when glucose levels are too high or too low.

According to Google, they have completed multiple clinical trials and are continuing to refine this novel technology. They are also developing an application that would allow measurements taken by the lens to be available on a smartphone and in the Cloud, for a physician to potentially access. This unprecedented, second-by-second account of a person’s glucose levels throughout the day, as they eat, exercise and sleep, would result in an extraordinary amount of information. If it proves to be safe, reliable, accurate and affordable, this glucometer contact lens has the potential to make life easier for all diabetics.

Medical Discovery News is a weekly radio and print broadcast highlighting medical and scientific breakthroughs hosted by professor emeritus Norbert Herzog and professor David Niesel, biomedical scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Learn more at www.medicaldiscoverynews.com.
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