In Brief
One day, your regular old contact lenses could serve as non-invasive diagnostic device, thanks to innovative new biosensors.

Bio-sensing Contact Lens

Using ultra-thin transistor technology, researchers from Oregon State University have found a way to design contact lenses capable of registering information about the wearer’s physiological state.

The prototype thus far is only able to detect blood glucose levels, but that could be particularly useful for many patients, particularly those who are diabetic. If the lenses can actively detect physiological changes — like a rise or drop in blood sugar — and subsequently alert the wearer, the implications as a medical device would be clear.

The researchers developed a biosensor with transparent sheet of IGZO transistors and glucose oxidase as a prototype. The mechanism of the biosensor would ideally function by the enzyme oxidizing the blood sugar when it comes into contact with it. This would cause a shift in PH levels which would in turn elicit a change in the electrical current flowing through the transistors. That means the sensors would ideally be able to detect even the smallest levels of glucose concentrations, which are present in tears.

Noninvasive Diagnostic Device

These futuristic contact lenses are still very much in the prototype phase, though the researchers hope to complete animal testing in the coming year. Even though they won’t be hitting pharmacy shelves anytime soon, given that researchers have access to the technology they need to create their noninvasive diagnostic device, the turnaround could be quick in the grand scheme of development, clinical trials, and approval. Beyond just making it available with glucose-detecting capabilities, researchers are optimistic that it will be able to one day be used to monitor other medical conditions, and perhaps even detect cancer.

Speaking to Gizmodo, Gregory Herman notes that:

There is a fair amount of information that can be monitored in a teardrop. Of course, there is glucose, but also lactate (sepsis, liver disease), dopamine (glaucoma), urea (renal function), and proteins (cancers). Our goal is to expand from a single sensor to multiple sensors.

While the sensors are in development, researchers haven’t yet managed to attach them to the contact lenses. But the biomedical tech industry is already abuzz with interest: the researchers have published their work in several journals, including Nanoscale, and have presented at theNational Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.