July 16--Companies are looking beyond the exploding wearable technology market to cutting-edge gear that can detect vital signs and automatically deliver medication through smart contact lenses, the first in a coming wave of devices integrated with our bodies, an expert said.
Google and Novartis announced Monday that the Swiss health care company will develop and eventually sell Google's smart contact lens, which can detect glucose levels in tear fluid. That data can be transmitted to a smartphone, providing an alternative to the standard "prick test" that measures glucose in blood.
"Our dream is to use the latest technology in the miniaturization of electronics to help improve the quality of life for millions of people," Google co-founder Sergey Brin said in a statement. "We are very excited to work with Novartis to make this dream come true."
And Google is not the only company working on smart lenses. Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, along with Boston Children's Hospital, is developing a contact lens that automatically dispenses medicine to the eye.
"We can deliver a therapeutic amount of drug for about a month," said Dr. Joe Ciolino, an ophthalmologist at Mass. Eye and Ear.
A biomaterial in the middle of the lens releases medication as the material breaks down. The hospitals are developing it for use initially for glaucoma patients who cannot, or may not want to, put drops in their eyes every hour.
Even as companies race to get smart watches and smart glasses in the hands of consumers, technology that can become part of the body like a contact lens could be the future of wearable technology, said Roger Kay, founder of Endpoint Technologies Associates.
"Just take these things to their logical conclusion, and they become part of the user," Kay said.
He said smart lenses with implanted screens could eventually show email, maps and more directly in front of the eye.
Dr. Daniel Kohane, a Children's Hospital doctor who is also working on the lens, said there are numerous possibilities for tracking health through a contact lens.
"It could be able to tell your temperature, your heart rate," Kohane said. "Anything that can get to the lens, in theory, it could detect."
Another lens in development measures the pressure inside the eye, a vital indicator for patients with glaucoma.
"This is a key step for us to go beyond the confines of traditional disease management, starting with the eye," said Joseph Jimenez, CEO of Novartis, whose Institutes for Biomedical Research are in Cambridge.
The agreement with Google gives Novartis the chance to commercialize the technology that was developed at Google X, the tech giant's department that takes "moonshots," everything from what has become Google Glass to WiFi hotspots in balloons to self-driving cars.
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