The smart contact lens that can detect diabetes

The ability for wearable devices to provide early detection of a range of conditions has been one of the more noticeable trends in healthcare in recent years.  One of the more interesting of these comes via Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) in South Korea, where researchers have developed a contact lens that they believe will provide early detection of diabetes.

The work, which was described in a recent paper, utilizes a hybrid film made from a combination of graphene and silver nanowires to act as electrodes that are capable of detecting a number of biomarkers without obstructing vision.  What’s more, the flexible nature of the lens make them comfortable to wear.

The lens are designed to pick up a range of biomarkers for things such as intraocular pressure, diabetes mellitus, and other health conditions.

Spotting diabetes

The devices are capable of detecting glucose due to the hybrid film layer on them, which are able to detect glucose in the tears of users.  Researchers removed the nanowires so that only only graphene remained, with this then coated with a special enzyme that can bind to the glucose, and subsequently change the resistance of the graphene.  This change in resistance can then be monitored wirelessly.  Getting to this stage was no easy task.

“In tears, there are many interfering ions and molecules that potentially cause false positive responses,” the team say. “We need to test the selectivity and long-term reliability of the glucose sensor. The effort includes designing and finding a molecule that selectively binds to glucose, which is another large research area.”

The team hope that their work will eventually make it to the market and enable contact lenses to offer glucuse sensing capabilities to users.

“Measuring the glucose accurately and reliably is another large research area,” they say. “A good glucose sensor developed by another researcher, for example, can easily be integrated onto our platform.”

Whilst it may be a little way off that point at the moment, it does nonetheless provide a tantalizing glimpse into a possibly not to distant future.