Korean researchers have just developed high-tech contact lenses that will be able to dramatically help diabetes patients. Using the latest in electrode and sensor technology, these new contacts can detect glucose levels just by analyzing a person's tears.
The professors behind these new contacts work for either Kyungpook National University or Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST). In addition to measuring a person's blood pressure, the researchers say these contacts should also be able to accurately detect intraocular pressure.
Researchers made sure to design these sensors out of extremely flexible and transparent materials. They designed the electrodes out of a very comfortable material called graphene with the thinnest nanowires imaginable.
The Korean developers were keen to use only stretchable and transparent products in their contact lens design. People who tested this team's first prototype diabetic contacts complained that the lenses were cumbersome and that they couldn't see clearly.
Since these new contacts can monitor both blood glucose and eye pressure, scientists have high hopes that these contacts can help detect early stages of glaucoma. Glaucoma causes eye pressures to increase dramatically and can be difficult for eye doctors to detect early on.
People who already have diabetes have a high risk of developing glaucoma later in life.
As of today, researchers have only tried out these high-tech contacts on rabbits. Doctors observed no negative side effects on the rabbit sample group.
Jang-Ung Park, one of the contact lens developers from UNIST, told reporters that smart contact technology is moving at an extremely fast pace. What people used to think of as only the stuff of sci-fi blockbusters will soon become a reality in the contact lens industry.
Of course, UNIST and Kyungpook National University aren't the only universities that have been developing high-tech contacts in recent years. Just a few other universities interested in smart contact lens design include the University of Waterloo and Oregon State University.
Some big name companies that have shown interest in designing contact lenses include Google, Sony, and Samsung. Indeed, Google has just received a patent for glucose-detecting contacts. Many experts believe the South Korean researchers will collaborate with other companies and universities dedicated to smart contact design in the future.
The main eye disease diabetics have to be worried about is diabetic retinopathy. This disease develops when the blood vessels behind the retinae start to become damaged due to poor blood sugar control. A few symptoms of the disease include blurred vision, difficulty seeing in dim places, and floaters.
If diabetic retinopathy isn't caught early, it could lead to blindness. That's why eye doctors recommend all diabetics get at least one eye exam each year to monitor this condition. Ophthalmologists can halt the progression of this disease with laser surgery, blood vessel growth inhibitors, and by suggesting changes in a patient's diet.
There's no word yet whether or not these contacts will be tested out in a human clinical trial.
People interested in these Korean developers' research can read a full report in the medical journal Nature Communications. The article was titled "Wearable smart sensor systems integrated on soft contact lenses for wireless ocular diagnostics."