Two great big hurdles for Google’s glucose-reading contact lenses: Accuracy, cost
Not everyone is so convinced when it comes to the contact lenses Google X just announced it’s developing for people with diabetes. Mixed in with a lot of excitement around the cool technology behind the lenses is some reservation that it’s just too early to tell whether Google is any more likely than others to succeed.
In the quest for a bloodless glucose meter, the diabetes community has seen one promising company after another fail to deliver a product to the market. Google has tech chops, but Amy Tenderich of DiabetesMine underscored the importance of scientific accuracy – not just ballpark numbers – in a usable glucose meter.
— Amy Tenderich (@AmyDBMine) January 17, 2014
For a blog post yesterday, she talked to Brian Otis, the project’s co-founder, who said the team realized that accuracy is the biggest challenge. The good news is, Google isn’t trying to do all of the science and commercialization by itself. The project founders said in a blog post they’re in discussions with the FDA and are planning to look for partners.
The vision is to embed a wireless chip and a miniaturized glucose sensor between two layers of soft contact lens material with a pinhole that would let tears seep into the sensor. It would take a reading every second and transmit it to a mobile device or a separate device specifically tied to the lenses.
If Google can make it work, Ralf Jahns, an analyst at Research2guidance, said the market is ripe for the technology. “We can’t comment on the potential market success of Google lenses, but we foresee that sensors that make glucose reading seamless for the diabetic will become the main revenue source for diabetes app publishers,” he said.
Jahns is the author of a report issued yesterday by Research2guidance that pointed to limited adoption of mobile apps by diabetics. Only 1.2 percent of the target population for mobile diabetes apps actually uses them, which raises the question of whether people would actually use a high-tech pair of contact lenses.
— Erin Spineto (@erinspineto) January 17, 2014
“An accurate way to measure blood sugars without piercing your skin would be a major step forward,” said David Edelman, co-founder of the blog Diabetes Daily. “Cost and access is important, but like all technology, time and scale would drive down the cost.”
Even so, the cost and access factors are important ones. Geographically, higher prevalence of diabetes has been linked to lower- and middle-income areas. And, age-wise, diabetes is most prevalent in older adults — a population that relies heavily on Medicare (and, it’s worth mentioning, that has been slow to adopt smartphones and internet usage).
“Medicare and private insurance companies will sooner or later need to be a part of this conversation,” said Manny Hernandez, president of the Diabetes Hands Foundation. “It’s never too early to ‘worry’ about this if this is to be something more than a very cool thing.”