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ADVANCE Discourse: Lab

Smart Contacts

Published July 24, 2014 5:04 PM by Michael Jones

We’ve discussed mobile medicine and hand-held technology before, but a recent partnership between drug manufacturer Novartis and internet juggernaut Google takes the theory to a whole new level. The two companies announced their collaboration to develop a smart contact lens to monitor blood sugar. Apart from the obvious implications of a “smart” piece of technology as small as a contact lens, the impact of results and information available “almost in real-time” could change the way diabetic patients monitor their blood sugar.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” said Joe Jimenez, CEO at Novartis, in the New York Times article. “This will take a few years, as opposed to a few months.”

As a manufacturer, Novartis would understand the challenges of the development process better than most. The company had unsuccessfully attempted to produce glucose-monitoring contacts before. The new smart lens, based on Google’s prototype, utilizes “miniature sensors and a radio antenna thinner than a human hair to track glucose levels.” Additionally, Jimenez pointed out that the partnership with Google gave the project the technological step-ahead it needed in order to develop a more effective prototype.

“One of the biggest hurdles was miniaturization, and that’s one of the biggest benefits that Google X brings,” he continued. “This is a set of engineers that are really doing incredible things with technology.”

While the “smart” contact lenses remain in early stages of development, they represent a trend in healthcare towards personalized medicine and interactive testing. According to the NY Times story, as the general population continues to have a greater understand and, subsequently, take more control over their health, the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries are seeing an increased demand for improved medical technology. As of this year, both Apple and Samsung also offer individual health-monitoring technologies. 

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