Smart contact lens for diabetics developed by Waterloo engineers wins James Dyson Award

A contact lens developed by a team at the University of Waterloo can monitor the blood sugar levels of diabetics and transmit that data to a person's smartphone in real time.

Lens monitors the blood sugar levels of diabetics and transmits data to a person's phone

A team of University of Waterloo engineers have developed a smart contact lens that can monitor the glucose levels of diabetics and report the results to the person's smartphone. (Medella Health)

A team at the University of Waterloo has developed a contact lens that could completely change how diabetics monitor their blood sugar.

The lens non-invasively monitors glucose levels and transmits the information to a mobile phone, Harry Gandhi, co-founder of Medella Health, told CBC News. Medella Health won the national prize in the James Dyson Award, a world-renowned design competition with a top national prize of $4,000.

"If your glucose is too high or too low, before anything serious happens you can take action on your glucose levels and prevent any sort of negative implications of that," he said.

"So not only is it helpful in the short run, but in the long run you can look at your trends and actually be able to change habits," Gandhi said. "It's a deeper way of being able to understand our health."

How it works

A diabetic user would wear the contact lens, which analyzes tear fluid, as well as a small clip, on their collar or behind their ear, which is embedded with a small device that continuously transmits data to the person's phone in real time.

The user is then able to check their phone for an update on their glucose levels.

"It's that simple. You put it on in the morning, just like a normal contact lens, take it off at night, clean it in the exact same way you would with a normal contact lens," Gandhi said.
The contact lens analyzes tear fluid and the lens' antenna communicates with a device the person wears on their collar or behind their ear. The device on that clip continuously transmits data to the person’s phone in real time. (Medella Health)

The lens doesn't affect a person's vision in any way and could work with prescriptions, according to Gandhi. 

The lens itself is made up of three components: A sensor, an ASIC (Application-specific integrated circuit) chip and and an antenna.

The team hopes to have a fully functional lens ready for human testing by April 2017.

The lens makes monitoring much easier for people with diabetes, Gandhi said.

"People really don't want to prick themselves and monitor their glucose levels," he said. "Can we use saliva? Can we use tears? What can we do to make this as easy as possible, and eventually we realized it was a smart contact lens."

International competition

Four additional Canadian businesses have been chosen to move on to the international competition, where they could win $45,000.

Two of those are companies were also created by University of Waterloo graduates: Arylla and Penta Medical.

Arylla developed a nano ink that can be used on product packaging so consumers can check to see if what they're buying is counterfeit. The company's CEO Perry Everett said the product can be used on everything from electronics to pharmaceuticals to food at the farmers' market.

Penta Medical is developing wearable infrared therapy devices to reduce the length of recovery time from an injury.

Smart Vaccine, from students at the University of Toronto, has created a carrier that will prevent vaccines from fluctuating temperatures and monitors the vaccines to ensure they're staying at an optimal temperature.

Students from Carleton University in Ottawa developed a twist fire extinguisher which is safer to use and easier for right- and left-handed people to pull the pin to use it.

All five companies will go against 105 other entries from 22 participating countries. From there, 20 teams will make the international shortlist, which will be announced Sept. 29. The international winner will be announced Oct. 27.


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