Alcon, Google working on ‘smart lens’ for diabetics, elderly

Google and Novartis are developing a contact lens for diabetics that monitors the glucose contained in tears. But such high-tech devices will be expensive and may not be commercially available for years. CREDIT: Novartis.)

Jeff George, CEO and global head of Alcon, confirmed Friday that Alcon is developing a “smart lens” to help people with diabetes better manage their disease and people with presbyopia, who must wear reading glasses for close-up work, to quickly change focus and see whatever they want to look at.

The lenses are being developed through a partnership with Goggle Inc.’s Google X division. Novartis, Alcon’s parent company, announced in July 2014 it was working with Google on the on the lenses. No terms of the deal were disclosed.

Both lenses are currently in “early stage, preclinical development,” but they have the potential to help millions of people, George said at Friday’s noon meeting of the Rotary Club of Fort Worth.

The lenses use micro sensors and computer technology to “almost put a mini computer into the eyes with a contact,” George said.

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For people with diabetes, the lens will calculate blood glucose levels on a minute-by-minute basis and interface with an insulin pump to automatically deliver the precise amount of insulin needed under various circumstances.

Rather than actually measure glucose in a drop of blood, the new lens will calculate the amount of glucose in tears.

Presbyopia is a visual condition common in people over 50 years old, in which loss of elasticity in the lens of the eye causes an inability to focus sharply on near objects, especially small print in dim light.

It is the reason so many older people have difficulty reading restaurant menus and threading needles.

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The “smart lens” has the potential to provide “accommodative vision correction to help restore the eye’s natural autofocus on near objects in the form of an accommodative contact lens or intraocular lens as part of cataract treatment,” according to a new release from Novartis, Alcon’s parent company.

The new lens will “auto-focus like a camera… to allow the wearer to look right in front of himself and at a distance almost immediately,” George said in Fort Worth Friday.