In the top-secret Google X lab that also came up with a driverless car, Google's Web-surfing eyeglasses and Project Loon, there's something else being cooked up. Google is developing devices that will relay your medical condition to your doctor's office seamlessly and without so much as a needle-prick. Who knew that even doctors are behind the scenes on one of Google's most exclusive research teams?
Google is doing research on contact lenses that would measure blood sugar for the world's 382 million diabetics. Until this week, when Google shared information about the project with The Associated Press, the work had been kept under wraps. Google has also applied for a patent on contact lens cameras.
Brian Otis, Google X project lead, has burned his fingertips so often that he can no longer feel the tiny chips he made from scratch in Google’s Silicon Valley headquarters, a small price to pay for what he says is the smallest wireless glucose sensor that has ever been made.
"You can take it to a certain level in an academic setting, but at Google we were given the latitude to invest in this project," Otis says. "The beautiful thing is we're leveraging all of the innovation in the semiconductor industry that was aimed at making cellphones smaller and more powerful."
Other non-needle glucose monitoring systems are also in the works, including a similar contact lens by Netherlands-based NovioSense, a minuscule, flexible spring that is tucked under an eyelid. Israel-based OrSense has already tested a thumb cuff, and there have been early designs for tattoos and saliva sensors.
Patients trying to navigate today’s complex medical system with its costly laboratory analyses might prefer a pain-free home diagnostic device that can analyze, continuously record and immediately remedy dangerous levels of blood sugar, electrolytes, potassium and or magnesium that can trigger a blackout or trip to the ER.
Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico is patenting a similar prototype model that can analyze various electrolyte levels painlessly with microneedles you don't even feel. The device could decrease the time people must spend in emergency rooms, lab testing facilities or doctors’ offices.
“This is the future of personalized health care,” said Sandia researcher Ronen Polsky. “These wearable technologies are just starting to come out in different forms. It’s inevitable that people will go there.”