New Thiel Fellow is developing glucose-sensing contact lenses

By Aditi Pai
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Medella HealthThiel Foundation has announced that Harry Gandhi, cofounder and CEO of digital health startup Medella Health will be a 2015 Thiel Fellow. Medella Health is developing glucose-sensing contact lenses.

This year's group of 20 Thiel Fellows were selected from 2,800 applicants. Fellows receive $100,000 and mentorship from the Foundation’s network of founders, investors, and scientists. They can participate as long as they leave college for the two years that the program runs. In the past, Thiel Foundation only considered applicants who were 20 or younger, but they are now considering applicants who are 22 or younger.

Medella Health is developing smart contact lenses, designed for people with diabetes, that continuously monitor a patients' glucose levels and send this data to their mobile device. The company explains that this offering will help alert patients to critical changes in their glucose measurements. Medella added that the system can also be used for patients with hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia. 

The companion app will help patients view their glucose levels, manage their diet, and view trends in their health management.

This is not the first company to take a shot at developing glucose-sensing contact lenses. Early last year, Google announced that it planned to develop smart contact lenses, as a noninvasive method of measuring blood glucose levels in people with diabetes.

At the time, a number of execs focused on digital health diabetes tools said they were skeptical of Google, or anyone else, tackling passive, noninvasive, blood glucose monitoring any time soon, including Dexcom Executive Vice President of Strategy and Corporate Development Steve Pacelli, Glooko CEO Rick Altinger, and WellDoc Chief Strategy and Commercial Officer Chris Bergstrom.

“That Google Glass thing? That’s a science project,” Pacelli told MobiHealthNews. “Lots of companies have tried and failed noninvasively to sense glucose in tears. You can measure glucose in tears, the concentration is a lot lower, there’s going to be huge time lag issues, the consistency of measurement is going to be a challenge. I don’t know how they’re going to power it, my guess is they’ll power it externally, but if you power it externally, it’s not really continuous realtime reporting. … I’m just not sure that it’s reality.”

In July 2014, Google's contact lens project appeared to be a bit more real after the company announced a partnership with Novartis' eye care division Alcon to license its still-largely-theoretical “smart lens” to the Swiss pharma company.