Researchers Develop ‘Smart’ Contact Lens That Detects, Treats Diabetes

POHANG, South Korea  Most diabetics would likely agree that getting diagnosed with diabetes comes with a whole assortment of lifestyle changes. From constantly measuring blood glucose levels to taking daily insulin shots to changing their diets, diabetics need to put in a lot of work to take good care of their health. But there’s good news for patients: A research team from the Pohang University of Science and Technology recently developed a “smart contact lens” that will make the lives’ of diabetics a little easier.

Over the last few years, there’s been a lot of research in using electronic wearable technology for the diagnosis and treatment of various diseases. These technologies have been dubbed electroceuticals — or electronic pharmaceuticals. Now, these electroceutical contact lenses are able to detect diabetes in their wearer, provide continuous glucose monitoring, and can even deliver drugs for treating diabetic retinopathy.

The lenses are made of biocompatible polymers and contain tiny electrical circuits for sensing glucose levels, on-demand drug delivery, wireless power management and wireless data communication. These lenses can help eliminate the invasiveness of manual blood glucose monitoring and will provide diabetics with instant access to their blood glucose levels.

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The research team tested the smart contact lenses they developed on rabbits to confirm that the blood glucose monitoring system is accurate and that the mechanism for drug delivery performs as intended. The blood glucose levels measured by the contact lenses matched the levels reported by conventional glucose sensors. Also, the contact lenses were able to effectively deliver treatments directly to the eyes.

Researchers hope that the success of their device in the laboratory will cause the healthcare industry to get in on the action and develop a commercial product.

“Despite the full-fledged research and development of wearable devices from global companies, the commercialization of wireless-powered medical devices for diagnosis and treatment of diabetes and retinopathy is insufficient,” says Professor Sei Kwang Han, lead author of the study, in a university release.

“We expect that this research will greatly contribute to the advancement of related industries by being the first in developing wireless-powered smart contact lenses equipped with drug delivery systems for diagnosis and treatment of diabetes, and treatment of retinopathy,” Han concludes.

The findings are published in Science Advances.

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