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‘Smart’ Contact Lens That Can Detect Sickness Already in the Works

Apr 10, 2017 09:07 AM EDT
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Diabetes cases reach 422 million as poorer countries see steep rises

Contact lenses are a great technology for those with imperfect eyesight, but new innovations show that soon, they can also be used to monitor your entire body for illnesses.

According to a report from Gizmodo, a research team from the Oregon State University was able to develop a transparent biosensor that could be included in contact lens construction to monitor the symptoms for different health conditions. The current prototype sensor has already been tested in the laboratory and can actually track blood glucose levels for people with diabetes.

Study leader Oregon State professor Gregory Herman and his team created the biosensor with a transparent sheet of compound gallium zinc oxide (IGZO) transistors and glucose oxidase, which is an enzyme that breaks down glucose. Upon contact with glucose, the glucose oxidase oxidizes the blood sugar and changes the pH level in the solution. As a result, the electrical current in the IGZO transistors shift.

Over 2,500 of these new biosensors could fit in a 1-millimeter patch of IGZO contact lens. Each one could track a different bodily function.

"There is a fair amount of information that can be monitored in a teardrop," Herman told Gizmodo. "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."

Scientists are hoping that this technology can monitor a great array of medical conditions - maybe even cancer.

"You could also look for molecules related to HIV or cancer," Herman said in a Live Science report. "We want to see if there are good ways to catch cancer at very early stages, before it's a fatal disease."

Even just the biosensor's current ability to track glucose levels is a huge scientific breakthrough. Continued blood monitoring could significantly reduce risk by giving real-time results to the patients compared to taking blood samples daily. It's also much less invasive than other options such as inserting electrodes beneath the skin.

The team's findings are published in the journals Nanoscale and Applied Materials & Interfaces

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