Industry announcement moves smart lenses closer to reality

July 15, 2014
Optometrists weigh in on futuristic lens technology

No longer simply a pipe dream of futurists and science fiction fans, smart contact lenses took a giant leap toward commercial reality with eye care professionals taking keen interest.

Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis reportedly penned a collaborative agreement with Google, Inc., on July 14, 2014, to bring the tech-firm's glucose-monitoring smart lenses to market. Novartis' eye care division, Alcon, will have the opportunity to license and commercialize the technology.

A Novartis prototype could be available by early 2015, reportedly.

"This news sends a message that smart lenses are something that will really happen, and not something that's just being talked about," says Thomas Quinn, O.D., AOA Contact Lens and Cornea Section (CLCS) chair.

"This also reminds us that although these are hi-tech devices, they're still contact lenses. We need experts in fabricating contact lenses in order to make this a reality, and we'll need experts like eye care professionals to fit the lenses so they can be worn successfully and safely."

Contact lenses of the future, today

Smart contact lenses could be the next frontier in the wearable tech craze that exploded onto the consumer scene recently with widespread interest. Devices such as Google Glass provide smartphone-like interconnectivity, but smart contact lenses could take that promise a step further with medical applications only a blink away.

In the July/August edition of AOA Focus, members discussed the auspicious rise of contact lens technology, including:

  • Drug-eluting lenses that secrete measured amounts of prescription medication for common ocular complications;
  • Lenses that can visibly alert wearers of undulating blood-sugar levels with tiny LED lights;
  • Intraocular pressure monitoring lenses; and,
  • Augmented reality systems designed for the military.

News of devices such as these will spur an interest in contact lenses, and it's important for doctors of optometry to recognize the opportunity, both to help develop such products and introduce the benefits of contact lenses to their patients.

"This is a great opportunity for optometry to strut its stuff," Dr. Quinn said in the article. "We'll need to be a part of the team if smart lenses are to succeed."

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