Purdue University researchers develop glucose-monitoring contact lens

By Laura Lovett

Glucose-monitoring contact lenses have been a continuing area of interest from developers all over the world. Most recently a team of researchers at Purdue University has announced that they have developed a new silicon-based, sensor-carrying contact lens that can monitor glucose levels as well as be used for ocular pain relief and drug delivery. 

The group at Purdue said the technology can detect glucose, lactate, and pH values continuously, according to a statement. The researchers said that these functions could help people living with diabetes hypoxia and ocular tissue health issues. 

“We developed a very unique technology that enables the integration of thin film sensors with a commercially available soft contact lens,” Chi Hwan Lee, leader of the research team and assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering at Purdue, said in a statement. “These current hydrogel-based contacts serve as the perfect platform for smart lens systems due to their high degree of comfortability, biocompatibility, breathability, and long-term wearability. Before our discovery, it was challenging to fabricate high-performance electronics on commercially available soft contact lenses.”

Right now the research team is working with the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization to get a patent for the technology and making it available for licensing, according to a statement. The research team will continue to test the lens in the meantime, specifically looking at the mechanical and electrical properties. 

Efforts to develop a glucose-sensing contact lens have made waves in the past, with the most notable effort announced by Google and Novartis announced in 2014. The project proved to be difficult, however, with a Novartis representative admitting to Reuters in late 2016 that plans for human tests of the lens were still up in the air.

More recently, in January a team of South Korean researchers announced their take on a smart, glucose-sensing contact lens. Their research, described in Science Advances, includes a tiny LED light, a glucose sensor, wireless power transfer circuit, and display able to react to real-time sensing data. 

There is still yet to be a pair of glucose monitoring contact lens to hit the mainstream market. But the Purdue team is optimistic.

 “This technology is highly novel and will significantly expand the functionality of existing soft contact lenses,” Lee said in a statement. “This technology will also form a basis to further extend the functionality of the smart soft contact lens system for many other envisioned applications, including controlled release of ocular drugs, eye-wearable night vision, and augmented reality.”