Imagine you set out to build wearable health tech device to address a major health condition such as diabetes or glaucoma. Wouldn’t it be nice to incorporate the techie bits into an item small, light, discrete, and already worn by more than 125 million people worldwide? That’s the number of global contact lenses wearers, according to Johnson & Johnson’s Vision Care, Inc. We wrote about Medella Health’s work on smart contact lenses to measure glucose levels in tears back in 2015. We documented Google’s injectable lens patent. No company or group appears to be anywhere near ready to ship a smart contact lens, including the subjects of this article, but new developments continue to emerge.
A cross-disciplinary team of Korean academic researchers from Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) and Sungkyunkwan University focuses on smart contacts. The team works with nanostructure integration. They reported progress developing soft, smart contact lenses to measure and wirelessly transmit glucose level data from tears. In a study published in Science Advances, the researchers claim to have overcome the problems encountered with other smart contact lenses. The team addressed issues of uncomfortable brittle and opaque components that blocked vision and risked potential harm to the eye. Another advance involves integrating glucose sensors, wireless power transfer circuits, and display pixels in transparent and stretchable nanostructures. These structures and wireless transmission get around previous problems of bulky sensor signal measurement equipment. The result, according to the team, is a soft, smart contact lens for real-time wireless operation.
The hope is that someday diabetes patients and people with glaucoma will be able to monitor their blood glucose levels and eye pressure with smart contacts. The team reported success testing with a live rabbit. The potential for noninvasive healthcare monitoring with smart contacts will continue to drive work on various solutions.