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Nanotech Contact Lens Monitors Diabetes by Changing Color

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]

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