Microsoft developing contact lens that can monitor blood sugar levels

Researchers at Microsoft are working with the University of Washington to develop a fully functional electronic contact lens that can monitor blood glucose levels.

According to the computing giant, the contact lens would replace traditional blood tests and provide real-time feedback regarding fluctuations in glucose and insulin levels to people with diabetes, allowing them to react quickly and increase their insulin intake. Babak Parviz, a researcher at Washington University, says the lens would be worn daily, just like regular contact lenses, but in addition to (or instead of) correcting vision, the lens would monitor the wearer's glucose level through their tears. He believes the technology could improve both the health and overall quality of life for the millions of people living with Type 1 diabetes worldwide. "What is inside the blood, to a degree, appears on the surface of the eye," Parviz explained. "So there is a reflection of the body chemistry directly on the surface of the eye. If you have a contact lens that can sample that surface, analyse it, and maybe send out the information through a radio, this contact lens, in principle, can give us information about what's happening inside the body without actually going into the body or collecting a blood sample." The team has so far been able to place a glucose sensor on the contact lens and demonstrate that it can detect glucose at levels that are found in the tear film. The goal, says Parviz, is to pull these elements together to develop a contact lens that constantly monitors the blood glucose level and records information that can be accessed by the patient's doctor. The team envisions a way to automatically display important information - including abnormal glucose or insulin alerts - in the lens wearer's view. Parviz says it could alert the wearer when their glucose levels indicate that they should stop eating, or remind them when it's time to eat a snack. "The functional contact lens could potentially provide us with the ability to have displays that we don't have to pull out and look at, and that require we take our attention away from the real world," Parviz notes. "They aren't socially quite as intrusive as wearing the goggles that are sort of the state of the art in the field right now." The Microsoft researchers are also looking to utilise the lenses beyond healthcare applications. "Imagine a world in which the virtual and the real are truly fused, without some of the technology barriers that exist in the way," Parviz concluded. "Imagine being able to overlay digital images in the real world seamlessly at any given time. It's a pretty amazing set of capabilities we could provide to the user."