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Google Secures Patent for Glucose-Sensing Contact Lens

Twitter Summary: @Google gets patent for #diabetes contact lens –reveals details on potential design & continued interest

Google recently received a patent for its glucose-sensing contact lens, providing the first major update we’ve heard on this project since last July. The patent does not necessarily reflect Google’s latest or final design of the glucose-sensing lens, but it does indicate continued work and interest in the project – a major positive for patients! Here’s what we learned from the patent (filed in November, approved in March):

  • The system would likely contain two or three parts: (i) the contact lens itself, which would sense glucose levels; (ii) a “reader” device, which would communicate and power the contact lens; and (iii) a user display, which would allow patients to see and review the data. The reader and user display could be on the same device.
  • The patent specifically mentions the possibility of eyeglasses, jewelry (e.g., earrings, necklace), or clothing (e.g., a scarf, hat, headband) functioning as the reader. The main requirement is that the device must be close enough to one of the lenses to make sure that the lens can communicate with the reader, which gives Google and Novartis a lot of flexibility to be creative!
  • Similarly, the display device could be a smart phone or wearable computer. One example given is a display worn on the head or in front of the eyes, such as Google Glass (another project in the Google[x] division).
  • The patent describes how high and low alarms might work and how continuous data could be displayed, suggesting that Google’s ultimate goal may be a CGM-like technology.
  • The smart contact lens could be the same size as standard contact lenses and could be made of the same (or similar) material. In theory, they might not feel any different to wear than a normal contact lens.

From a convenience perspective alone, a glucose-sensing contact lens powered by clothing/jewelry/glasses could offer a major win for patients – potentially no need to carry around an extra device, significant discretion, and high “cool factor.” Of course, there are still challenges to overcome, such as accuracy and reliability, not to mention cost and manufacturing.

Google initially announced work on a glucose-monitoring contact lens last January. Novartis partnered with Google in July 2014 to help make the idea a reality, bringing previous expertise from its major eye care division, Alcon. While Novartis initially hoped to have a full prototype of the lens completed by early 2015, the project has been kept quiet over the past 10 months until this recent update. We’re not sure of the latest timeline on a prototype, but the patent makes us optimistic that the companies are still working on making this idea a reality. –VI/AJW