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Google, Novartis team up to develop ‘smart’ contact lenses for diabetics

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Google has just announced a deal with pharmaceutical firm Novartis for developing "smart" contact lenses targeted towards people with diabetes. The lenses, which may be able to monitor blood sugar levels, would give patients the ability to measure their glucose levels without the use of lancets. Lancets are small medical devices that have needles for pricking the finger to draw blood. 

Novartis, which counts eye care company Alcon as one of its subsidiaries, has agreed to a deal for licensing Google's smart lens technology, which make use of microchips, non-invasive sensors and miniaturized electronics. Alcon will be paired with Google's secretive X research division for developing the lenses.

According to a statement from Novartis, the lenses perform glucose readings by measuring the amount of tear fluid in the eye. The technology, which is expected to work with a mobile device, also has applications outside of enhancing vision and monitoring blood sugar levels. Another version of the lenses is able to contribute to vision correction. The lenses are said to help restore the natural autofocus of the eyes. It works like a camera; it focuses on nearby object then adjusts the focus once the user shifts to an object that is far away. The technology is said to help people with presbyopia, a condition wherein a person loses the ability to focus on nearby objects due to aging.

The lenses will be sold through Alcon. There is still no solid timeline for its launch. However, Joe Jimenez, Novartis' CEO, said that it would be a "disappointment" if the timeline for launch went over five years.  

Jimenez admitted to failures in Novartis' previous attempts at developing products that measure glucose levels in a non-invasive manner. However, he is optimistic that Google's involvement would lead to more success.  

"One of the biggest hurdles was miniaturization, and that's one of the biggest benefits that Google X brings... This is a set of engineers that are really doing incredible things with technology," Jimenez said

Both sides have refrained from disclosing the financial terms of the deal. Jimenez also said that it is still too early to give an estimate on the price of the lenses.  

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