‘Smart’ contacts green-lighted for human tests

September 9, 2015
Next wave of wearable tech coming to an eye near you.

Ready or not, here come smart contacts.

Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis publicly revealed plans to roll out human trials of its prototype smart contact lens technology in 2016 with an eye on consumer market ubiquity within five years, according to a September 5, 2015 Reuters report. This initial prototype smart lens is purportedly designed to help with presbyopia, though the company eyes other applications, as well.

In July 2014, Novartis penned a collaborative agreement with Google, Inc., to bring the tech giant's blood-glucose monitoring smart lenses to market. The technology could redefine the way patients with diabetes track their glucose levels, offering a painless, more continual tracking method versus the tried-and-true finger-stick blood test.

Although Google provided a peek at how its proposed smart lenses would work—using miniaturized sensors imbedded in the hydrogel lens to collect tear fluid and transmit data to a handheld monitor—Novartis has not revealed designs for its accommodative vision correction smart lenses.

Alcon, Novartis' eye care division, will have the opportunity to in-license and commercialize the technology.

Contact lenses of the future, today

Turning science fiction into science fact, smart contact lenses look to be the latest in a line of wearable technology that marries digital connectivity with bio-sensing capabilities to clue in consumers about their personal health and wellbeing.

In the July/August 2014 edition of AOA Focus, AOA members discussed the rise of contact lens technology and the possibilities on the horizon, including:

  • Drug-eluting lenses for common ocular complications
  • Blood-glucose monitoring smart lenses
  • Intraocular pressure-monitoring lenses
  • Augmented-reality lenses designed for military and future consumer use

"This is a great opportunity for optometry to strut its stuff," said Thomas Quinn, O.D., AOA Contact Lens & Cornea Section immediate past chair, in the 2014 AOA Focus story. "Doctors of optometry will need to be a part of the team if smart lenses are to succeed."

Currently, about 1 in 10 U.S. adults have diabetes, a number projected to grow to 1 in 3 by 2050, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just as ever-increasing diabetes rates proved a catalyst for Google's smart lenses, those climbing numbers also serve as a constant reminder that doctors of optometry play a key role in the multidisciplinary care of patients with diabetes.

AOA members can access the AOA's landmark clinical practice guideline, Eye Care of the Patient with Diabetes Mellitus.

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