Google Smart Lenses May Treat and Detect Illness

Google Smart Lenses May Treat and Detect Illness

Google's prototype and research anticipate a host of medical applications

Janet Burns
  • 28 july 2014

Novartis and Google have partnered to develop a contact lens with the potential for a wide array of medical and lifestyle uses. Packed with technology, the lenses are designed to assist sufferers of serious illness and nearsightedness alike.

Novartis’ recent decision to in-license Google’s lens technology through Alcon, its eye-care division, represents a huge step in the process of producing smart lenses for public use. As Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez noted in a July 15th statement, the company is “looking forward to working with Google to bring together their advanced technology and our extensive knowledge of biology to meet unmet medical needs.” The project, he added, “is a key step for us to go beyond the confines of traditional disease management, starting with the eye.”

Smart Lens

In 2014, tech giant Google has been making numerous strides in realizing the potential of its lens technology. In January, Google announced its development of a prototype of a smart lens for measuring blood sugar levels in diabetes sufferers: “[w]e’re testing a smart contact lens that we built that measures the glucose levels in tears using a tiny wireless chip and a miniaturized glucose sensor,” Brian Otis, Google X project leader for the smart lens, tells the Telegraph. The lenses will use a minute glucose sensor and a hair-width wireless transmitter to track and relay levels via a separate device.

Smart Lens Diagram

Just four months later, Google filed a US patent application to embed micro-cameras in contact lenses to serve vision-impaired people of various levels. With the help of Novartis medical experts and researchers, Google hopes to make these integrative lenses an accessible reality in about five years. “Our dream is to use the latest technology in the miniaturization of electronics to help improve the quality of life for millions of people,” says Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder. “We are very excited to work with Novartis to make this dream come true.”


In addition to measuring glucose levels, the lenses may potentially detect other indicators of illness. Thomas Quinn, head of the American Optometric Association’s contact lens and cornea section, explained to MIT’s Technology Review that tears also contain lacryglobin, a chemical “that serves as a biomarker for breast, colon, lung, prostate, and ovarian cancers.” It could be particularly useful to monitor the lacryglobin levels of cancer patients who are in remission, Quinn added.

Quinn also suggested that another application for smart lenses could be drug delivery: “[i]f a lens could dispense medication slowly over long periods of time, it would be better for patients than the short, concentrated doses provided by eye drops,” Technology Review reported. Research has indicated, however, that this function will be difficult to achieve.

Images: Affiliatevote, Alalam, Google

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