Google wants a piece of the eye—teams up with Novartis on smart contact lenses

Lenses will measure blood sugar levels

In Google's latest effort to make inroads into health care, the company has announced a partnership with drugmaker Novartis to develop smart contact lenses to monitor bodily functions such as blood sugar levels via miniscule sensors.

Google first debuted the design of the lenses in January. Last month, the company unveiled its broader wearable technology platform—Google Fit. (Google has competition from another Silicon Valley firm; Apple recently unveiled a similar platform called HealthKit.)

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Google's new partnership with Novartis' Alcon eye care division will help the company commercialize the smart lenses.

The lenses pick up the body's glucose levels by measuring its presence in tears through sensors that are "so small they look like bits of glitter;" the sensors then relay the message via an antenna that is thinner than human hair, Google says. The glucose-measuring technology is less-invasive and more comprehensive than the more traditional, finger-pricking method—something the 382 million people with diabetes might be interested in, Google says.

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The technology also has the potential to lower the cost of managing the chronic disease by allowing patients to manage their own health, says Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez.

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"This really brings high-technology and combines it with biology—and that's a very exciting combination for us," Jimenez said in an interview with Reuters, adding the company hopes a smart lens prototype will be available for research reviews by early 2015 (Morse/Winkler, Wall Street Journal, 7/15; Copley et al., Reuters, 7/15).


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