Google Partners Novartis For ‘Smart’ Contact Lenses

Google and Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis have agreed to development ‘smart’ contact lenses, designed to help people with diabetes track their blood glucose levels.

The pair propose to develop the technology further, with a proposal to ultimately produce lenses which would help restore the eye’s ability to focus.

No More Pricks?

Diabetes is a growing problem worldwide, and diabetic people are at risk of loss of eyesight, or indeed amputation of limbs. It is therefore vital they monitor their blood glucose levels accurately, which can involve pricking their fingers up to 10 times a day.

But Google’s development lab, known as the Google X project, has been looking at this issue for a while now. The lab, which is also responsible for developments such as self-driving cars, and Google Glass, which uses bone conducting technology to deliver sound.

In January this year Google revealed to the world that it had developed special contact lenses equipped with miniaturised sensors that can analyse the tears in the eyes of diabetes patients to determine when their blood sugar levels need to be adjusted.

Google said at that time that its experimental lenses, which look like typical curved, round lenses, also feature copper-colored “grid” lines that are reminiscent of the rear window heater lines on a modern car. Google said sensors are embedded in the grid lines measure glucose levels and analyse the wearer’s tears using a tiny wireless chip and a miniaturised glucose sensor that are embedded between two layers of soft contact lens material.

And now on Tuesday Novartis signed a deal with Google to develop these lenses. Novartis’s Alcon eye-care division is to license and commercialise the ‘smart lens’ technology designed by Google.

Quality Of Life

Novartis said that the agreement between Google and Alcon represents an important step for the company to utilise technology to manage human diseases and conditions. It said that Google’s key advances in the miniaturisation of electronics complement Novartis’s deep pharmaceuticals and medical device expertise.

“We are looking forward to working with Google to bring together their advanced technology and our extensive knowledge of biology to meet unmet medical needs,” said Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez. “This is a key step for us to go beyond the confines of traditional disease management, starting with the eye.”

“Our dream is to use the latest technology in the miniaturisation of electronics to help improve the quality of life for millions of people,” said Sergey Brin, co-founder, Google. “We are very excited to work with Novartis to make this dream come true.”

Besides diabetes, the smart lenses are also being developed for those people who have “presbyopia” (age-related long sight), and who can no longer read without glasses. The thinking is that the “smart lens” has the potential to provide “accommodative vision correction to help restore the eye’s natural autofocus on near objects in the form of an accommodative contact lens or intraocular lens as part of the refractive cataract treatment.”

Earlier this week, Amazon hired Babak Parviz from Google’s X lab. Parviz is credited with starting Google Glass, and kicking off the smart contact lens project at Google X.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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