As technology and health care advance, we benefit from it. Researchers are working as we speak to develop contact lenses that can give us insights into our health.
A research team out of Oregon State has developed a transparent biosensor that, when added to a contact lens, could potentially be used to detect symptoms an array of health conditions. Right now, a lab-tested prototype can detect blood glucose levels. In the future, scientists believe it could detect other medical conditions, possibly even cancer.
It will be a few years before these futuristic contact lenses will hit pharmacy shelves, but the technologies required to build this non-invasive diagnostic device do exist today. One example is Google’s smart contact lenses project that may help people with diabetes manage their disease.
The glucose level monitoring lenses use a semiconductor composed of the compound gallium zinc oxide (IGZO). It’s the same semiconductor that has revolutionized electronics, allowing for higher resolution televisions, smartphones, and tablets. Researchers are using this idea to create similar technology for diagnostic medicine. Eventually, scientists hope the data can provide insight on lactate (sepsis, liver disease), dopamine (glaucoma), urea (renal function), and proteins (cancers).
To make the prototype contact lens, a biosensor containing a transparent sheet of IGZO transistors and glucose oxidase was fabricated. When the biosensor comes into contact with glucose, an enzyme oxidizes blood sugar. This causes the pH level in the mixture to shift, triggering measurable changes in the electrical current flowing through the IGZO transistors. Embedded in the IGZO biosensor are tiny nanostructures that allow the transparent device to detect trace amounts of glucose concentrations found in tears.
The sensor is still in the development phase. Eventually the device will transmit data via radio frequency to a receiver. It is estimated that more than 2,500 biosensors could be imbedded in a 1-mm square patch of an IGZO contact lens, each of them designed to measure a different bodily function. Testing will begin in the next year.
If you’re wondering how far the contact lens has progressed since its inception 130 years ago, read our blog. And make sure to visit one of our eye care specialists at your nearest FYidoctors location.