Novartis is partnering with Google to develop and sell Google's smart lens technology. Smart lenses feature a microchip and sensors embedded between the layers of a contact lens.
Currently the primary application is to help diabetes patients monitor glucose levels. Most patients currently use blood tests to check the levels of glucose, but the smart lens can measure glucose levels in the tear fluid of a patient's eye. Not only would this eliminate the need for pricking fingers, the data could be constantly updated and available via a connected smartphone. The phone could even provide a notification when glucose levels fall outside the optimal range.
"We are looking forward to working with Google to bring together their advanced technology and our extensive knowledge of biology to meet unmet medical needs," says Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez in a statement. "This is a key step for us to go beyond the confines of traditional disease management, starting with the eye."
The lenses were developed by Google X, a team that experiments with new technology in order to find solutions for large-scale problems. By licensing the technology to Novartis, the team can leave further development to the medical company and focus on new ideas and experimentation. Meanwhile, the smart lens technology will be made available to make lives easier around the world.
"Our dream is to use the latest technology in the miniaturization of electronics to help improve the quality of life for millions of people," says Google co-founder Sergey Brin. "We are very excited to work with Novartis to make this dream come true."
Smart lens tecnology could also have other applications in the future which have not yet been explored. Novartis specifically mentions presbyopia as a condition that smart lenses could help solve. By helping the eye focus on nearby objects, smart lenses could replace reading glasses without the need for the lenses to be removed for normal vision. Smart lenses could even be surgically implanted into the eye for a more permanent solution to certain vision problems. Such intraocular lenses are currently being used to treat cataracts and myopia.
Since the technology is still in early development, details about the product are scarce. Novartis has not stated a timeline for the eventual commercial release of smart lenses, or given an idea of the price patients can expect. More information will become available once the product is finalized.