Nanotech Contact Lens Monitors Diabetes by Changing Color

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Nanoparticles in a hydrogel lens change color with the glucose level in tears.

Nanoparticles in a hydrogel lens change color with the glucose level in tears.

The body can be a confusing place, and when you’re ill sometimes you just wish you could see what the problem is. For diabetics, that wish may be coming true. Professor Jin Zhang at the University of Western Ontario has developed contact lenses that would change color as the user’s glucose levels varied. The new device is made by embedding nanoparticles into standard hydrogel. These particles react with glucose in the tears and change color. As you can see in the photo the effect is slight, but it could alert diabetics to dangerous sugar levels without the need for regular blood tests. According to the University’s News site, Zhang’s research was recently awarded more than $210,000 from the Canada Foundation for Innovation so that it could continue to develop nanocomposite technology.

While it could be very useful for diabetes in theory, the nanoparticle embedding process is probably going to find better applications outside of medicine. Passive monitoring through a contact lens, while ingenious, doesn’t seem like the most economic approach. And we’ve already seen how stem cell treatments, or implants, are likely to help fight or even cure diabetes in the future. I think that a color shifting particle easily embedded in hydrogel has a better chance of finding success in augmented reality technology. It will be interesting to see where Zhang’s nanoparticles are eventually used. Hopefully with all the grant money she’ll have plenty of opportunity to develop new applications in the future.

[photo credit: Jin Zhang]

Discussion — 23 Responses

  • healthreform February 7, 2010 on 4:19 pm

    Thanks for this. With the disease of diabetes finally getting the attention it deserves this is a welcomed post. The level of what is concerned a normal blood sugar level has been lowered recently. http://ezinearticles.com/?Borderline-Diabetes?-… What this means is that many more were at risk than previously believed. Thank you

  • paul_shallard February 17, 2010 on 1:54 pm

    Wouldn't this be better as a “tattoo” on the back of the hand or something so the diabetic could see it and react to it.

    Come to think of it why not a whole range of medical tattoo monitoring a range of physiologically important functions, and medications
    On warfarin/beta blockers- not sure your current dose is high enough check your wrist.
    Monitor your hormone levels? – hmm maybe not

  • pre diabetes diet February 19, 2010 on 6:46 pm

    It might be ok but i think it will have a new version with better upgrades later

  • Anne May 15, 2010 on 2:31 pm

    I guess this lens will work like litmus paper. Interesting idea, but not so practical

  • Anne May 15, 2010 on 10:31 am

    I guess this lens will work like litmus paper. Interesting idea, but not so practical

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  • robert sack June 30, 2010 on 7:53 pm

    Unfortunately the level of glucose in tears does not parallel serum levels and in fact is much lower. There are a number of studies showing this. A little minor problem.

  • robert sack June 30, 2010 on 3:53 pm

    Unfortunately the level of glucose in tears does not parallel serum levels and in fact is much lower. There are a number of studies showing this. A little minor problem.

  • Cody July 21, 2010 on 6:55 am

    Contact lens that can monitor glucose level? That’s amazing. But you must always bring a mirror with you so you dont have to ask a friend to check your lens everytime.

  • Cody July 21, 2010 on 2:55 am

    Contact lens that can monitor glucose level? That’s amazing. But you must always bring a mirror with you so you dont have to ask a friend to check your lens everytime.

  • contact lenses October 15, 2010 on 8:30 am

    I thought about this concept very interesting.

  • Diaples November 1, 2010 on 6:30 pm

    What is the point? Would you then have to rely on others to tell you that your eyes are turning color?

    How about a small lead into the bloodstream that you can connect to a device?

  • Andrew Flintoff February 22, 2011 on 6:26 am

    Thanks, it is a valuable discovery by the university.

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