Google smart contact lens
The smart contact lens contains chips and sensors "the size of glitter" to monitor blood sugar levels. Google

Google has developed a smart contact lens which uses chips and sensors the size of glitter to monitor the glucose levels of diabetes sufferers.

Created by the company's Google X skunk works division - best known for developing Google Glass - the search giant said the smart contact lens can measure the wearer's glucose level once per second using a tiny wireless chip and sensor embedded between two lenses.

"We're also investigating the potential for this to serve as an early warning for the wearer, so we're exploring integrating tiny LED lights that could light up to indicate that glucose levels have crossed above or below certain thresholds," project co-founders Brian Otis and Babak Parviz said in a blog post.

Affecting one in 19 people, according to Google, diabetes sufferers have to monitor their glucose levels by pricking their finger and testing drops of blood throughout the day. Failure to keep tabs on their blood sugar levels can lead to long- and short-term damage to the eyes, kidneys and heart.

Chips and sensors so small they look like bits of glitter, and an antenna thinner than  a human hair.
- Google[x]

Instead of using blood to monitor glucose levels, scientists have investigated the analysis of other body fluids, such as tears, in the hope of finding an easier way to combat the disease. "But as you can imagine, tears are hard to collect and study," the Google engineers said.

"At Google X, we wondered if miniaturised electronics - think: chips and sensors so small they look like bits of glitter, and an antenna thinner than a human hair - might be a way to crack the mystery of tear glucose and measure it with greater accuracy."

Currently in the testing stage of development, the smart contact lenses are built to almost constantly measure glucose levels in tears, taking a reading once every second.

Still early days

Otis and Parviz conceded that it is "still early days for this technology," but added: "we've compiled multiple clinical research studies which are helping to refine our prototype. We hope this could someday lead to a new way for people with diabetes to manage their disease."

Google X is in discussions with the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration), but admits there is still "a lot more work to do" to turn the technology into a system that people can use. The team is looking to partner with medical experts and application developers to create a way of getting the glucose readings from the wearer to their doctor.

The engineers conclude: "At a time when the International Diabetes Federation is declaring that the world is 'losing the battle' against diabetes, we thought this project was worth a shot."