Google and pharmaceutical giant, Novartis, have joined forces to develop a smart contact lens that monitors blood-sugar levels and corrects vision in a new way.

The smart lens was first unveiled in January this year and is expected to be available for research-and-development reviews by early 2015.

According to Google, the smart lens contains a device the size of a speck of glitter that measures glucose in tears. A wireless antenna – thinner than a human hair – then transmits the measurements to an external device.

Monitoring glucose levels through the lens could prove to be easier and more comprehensive than current techniques, which generally require diabetics to prick their fingers for droplets of blood. Such technology advancements in glucose monitoring could help the 3.5 million South Africans, or 6% of the population, who have diabetes (according to the Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology).

Google co-founder, Sergey Brin, said the company wanted to use “the latest technology in ‘minituarisation’ of electronics in order to improve people’s quality of life.”

Novartis Chief Executive, Joe Jimenez, said the move towards wearable health technology is part of a broader trend to involve patients in managing their own health. Such technology has the potential to lower the cost of managing chronic disease. “This will be a very important growth area in the future,” Jimenez said. He added that the smart lens technology has the potential to become a “large revenue stream” for the company.

Novartis is also looking into how to enable the contact lens technology to assess long sighted people’s vision and autofocus it on what they are looking at – similar to an automatic camera lens when taking a picture. Such technology would help them avoid the need for glasses when reading or looking at other nearby objects.

Smart contact lenses are one of the latest wearable technology and software products developed to monitor health and fitness. Google Fit and Apple’s HealthKit were recently unveiled as new health platforms for tracking health metrics, such as sleep and exercise.

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