Color-Shifting Contact Lenses Alert Diabetics to Glucose Levels

Diabetics are saddled with the unenviable task of checking their blood sugar levels constantly, usually through a repeated ritual of pin-pricks and blood drawing. But a new non-invasive technology developed by a biochemical engineer at the University of Western Ontario lets diabetics keep tabs on their glucose levels with contact lenses that change colors as their blood sugar rises and falls.

Nanoparticles — is there anything they can’t do? — embedded in the hydrogel lenses react with glucose molecules in naturally occurring tears. A chemical reaction then causes the lenses to shift their hues, alerting the wearer to falling or spiking blood sugar levels. The wearer can then make the appropriate adjustments to his or her blood sugar, all without having to carry around (and use) devices for drawing and analyzing blood.

U. of Western Ontario Professor Jin Zhang has just collected $216,000 from the Canada Foundation for Innovation as a result of the breakthrough process to develop other applications for multifunctional nanocomposites, which can be used in everything from biomedicine to food preservation to packaging. We think a head-up display for glucose levels is pretty good, but if nanocomposites can also make the packaging on that blood-sugar-leveling candy bar biodegrade more quickly, all the better.

Institute of Nanotechnology