34.2 million people in the US have diabetes, the CDC reveals. Now, a recent preliminary study published in Science Advances shows smart contact lenses may soon be able to monitor diabetes and deliver medication in humans. Researchers tested the technology on rabbits and found it successfully worked on both counts.
At just 0.2 millimeters thick, the smart contact lens consists of a microcontroller chip combined with minute, flexible electrical circuits. Eventually, researchers intend to make the lens even smaller at just 0.15 mm thick. At the moment, however, it’s already smaller than FDA-approved lenses used to track eye pressure. The lens contains special chemicals that bind with glucose to spark a change in the electrical current. This electric current has the ability to dissolve gold-membrane capped drug reservoirs and deliver medication.
“This study is ambitious and bold […] but I would be cautious in my expectations,” states Dr. John Hovanesian, an ophthalmologist and clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “One of the biggest challenges to monitoring glucose in the eye with contacts is that you have to be cautious about the use of contact lenses in people with diabetes because infections and injuries can become more serious,” he explained. However, Hovanesian is confident about the “exciting possibilities” created by the lens. In particular, it may be able to treat diabetic retinopathy by administering drugs currently done with eye injections.
Easier Diabetic Control
Researchers have been working on ways to measure blood sugar levels without finger pricking or wearing glucose monitors; these include monitoring through tears, saliva, sweat, and infrared light. “Any non-blood-based glucose monitoring is very challenging,” said Sanjoy Dutta, vice president of research at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. “Looking forward, we need to know how accurate tear glucose is compared to blood glucose. And, the Achilles’ heel may be in connecting the two components (glucose sensing and drug delivery)”. The lens has the potential to give people with diabetes greater control over their condition. By preventing high blood sugars, long-term complications such as foot problems can be prevented. Issues with hyperglycemia can damage nerves and decrease blood flow to the feet, resulting in chronic pain and major surgery.
Researchers intend to begin human clinical trials in 2021. If successful, people with diabetes may have access to smart contact lenses by 2023.