Contact lens set to revolutionise medical diagnoses – and lifespan

An eye for an eye – the future of wearable contact lens tech will soon be keeping an eye on our health.

Imagine a world where your contact lenses doubled as a remote laboratory, analysing your tears to test your blood sugar levels, before wirelessly transmitting the data to your doctor. What might have once seemed like science-fiction is becoming a reality, especially as tech giants like Sony, Samsung and Google have all invested heavily in researching the medical applications for smart contact lenses.

Longevity.Technology: From monitoring symptoms of chronic illnesses to transmitting vital signs, to delivering drugs, we are excited by the near-term developments in this field; remote diagnosis, monitoring and treatment means swifter, more efficient patient outcomes leading to enhanced lifespan and healthspan.

The TRL score for this Longevity.Technology domain is currently set at: ‘Principles are demonstrated through experimentation.’
The TRL score for the technology addressed in this article is: ‘Principles are demonstrated through experimentation.’

The smart contact lens market is expected to be worth $7.2 billion in terms of revenue by 2023 [1], its growth driven by the pressures of an aging population suffering chronic diabetic eye disease and the increasing interest in self-monitoring devices.

The Google Contact Lens was a 2015 device which promised to help patients with diabetes by constantly measuring the glucose levels in their tears as well as treating their related sight issues. The lens contained an embedded wireless microchip and glucose sensor, that fed data about the user’s glucose measurements to their paired smartphone. If successful, the lens would have provided patients with a non-invasive, pain-free, alternative to fingerprick tests.

When the Google Contact Lens foundered at the clinical trial stage, investors were undeterred and the market continues to move forward, with other companies picking-up the development baton. Companies and organisations who have announced they are researching smart contact lens include the US Department of Defense, Novartis, Sensimed, Sony and Samsung.

Chi Hwan Lee, who leads a team of Purdue University researchers in the US aims to improve on Google’s designs, arguing that smart contact lenses are not limited to just glucose monitoring [2]. Their research has enabled sensors and other small devices to be mounted on commercially available contact lenses.

Previously, smart lenses required a rigid, custom-made lens which limited their manufacturability and long-term biocompatibility. The ability to easily combine readily available, silicon-based contact lenses with a variety of different electronic devices significantly expands the healthcare possibilities of smart lenses.

“This technology will form a basis to further extend the functions of the smart contact lens system for many other applications, including controlled release of ocular drugs, night vision, and augmented reality” explained Lee [3]. Lee’s team are continuing to trial the lens technology but are expected to move onto the first stage of clinical testing soon.

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