We already know that one of Google’s products, Google Glass, is being put to good use in the medical field, and with Google Smart Contact Lenses going from conception to reality, the future indeed looks brighter. Unveiled just a few short months ago, Google’s Smart Contact Lenses are making a splash in a big way.
Aimed at providing diabetes sufferers a means to monitor their blood sugar, the device reads chemicals in the tear fluid of the eye and warns the wearer if the levels are abnormal via embedded LED technology within the lenses themselves. Because human tears contain a variety of inorganic electrolytes, organic solutes, proteins, and lipids, such a device would provide a convenient platform for diagnosing and/or monitoring many health-related illnesses.
On April 17, 2014, Google filed for a patent to secure the technology. Shown to the left in Figure 2A from Google’s patent (No. US-20140107445 A1) is a view of the conceptual design for their eye-mountable device. The device measures the concentration of an analyte, a chemical substance, by measuring the current generated through electrochemical oxidation or reduction reactions of the analyte at a working electrode in the sensor. The patent itself states that when the electrode is biased, the output current is proportional to the reaction rate, which provides a measure of the concentration of the analyte surrounding the electrode itself.
The lenses can monitor ever-changing concentrations of the analyte in the tear film on the surface of the eye. Through capillaries in the structure of the eye, the tear film contains many biomarkers found in the blood that can be analyzed to monitor a person’s health condition. The tear film includes glucose, calcium, sodium, cholesterol, and other biomarkers. Whereas the concentrations in the tear film can be different from those in the blood, the patent states that a relationship between the two can be mapped.
The lenses would be composed of similar compounds found in traditional corrective contact lenses, such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), silicone hydrogels, and others. The device can also be used with a reagent that is localized proximate to the working electrode to react with the analyte. Specifics detailed within the patent explain that glucose oxidase could be fixed near the working electrode to react with glucose and release hydrogen peroxide, which is then electrochemically detected by the working electrode, resulting in an amperometric current that is able to be measured via the working electrode itself.
Furthermore, the device can then use programmable pixel arrays to relay information to a focal point that can be seen by the eye to alert the wearer of the information. While still in prototype form, the device is able to get a reading once every second and could communicate with a separate hand-held device configured to analyze the data being transmitted. Given the nature of Google itself (search, data mining, etc), there are concerns as to what the device might do with the data it is processing. Google has made the assurance that the data would never hit Google’s servers.
We have a technology on the horizon that is being made with the intent to improve the lives of those affected by this disease and the potential for others in the future. With the current uses of Google’s other technologies and the future inclusion of the Smart Contact Lenses, Google is truly living up to the company motto of “Don’t be evil.”
- Makarechi K. Move over, Google Glass; here come Google Contact Lenses. Vanity Fair website. April 22, 2014. http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2014/04/google-contact-lenses.
- Ulanoff L. Google Smart Contact Lenses move closer to reality. Mashable website. April 21, 2014.http://mashable.com/2014/04/21/google-smart-contact-lenses-patents/.
- US Patent & Trademark Office. Microelectrodes in an ophthalmic electrochemical sensor. April 17, 2014. No. US20140107445 A1. http://appft1.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-bool.html&r=1&f=G&l=50&co1=AND&d=PG01&s1=20140107445.PGNR.&OS=DN/20140107445RS=DN/20140107445.