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Google partners with Novartis to create smart contact lens

Google's smart contact lens takes step toward becoming reality thanks to new partnership with Novartis

Pharmaceutical giant Novartis International AG and technology giant Google have teamed up to create a smart contact lens capable of measuring diabetics' glucose levels and correcting farsightedness.

As part of the deal, Novartis is licensing technology behind Google's smart contact lens. Still in development, the smart lens was first announced in January. The new partnership is intended to speed up development and commercialization. Google will be working with Alcon, Novartis' eye-care division.

"We aim to unlock a new frontier to jointly address the unmet medical needs of millions of eye care patients around the world," Jeff George, division head of Alcon, said in a written statement.

Tiny sensors and microchips would be embedded in the lens. The device could provide diabetic users measurements of their glucose levels by gauging their tear fluid then transmitting the data wirelessly to a smartphone.

Jill Weisenberger, a certified diabetes educator, said the technology could benefit diabetics, who would no longer have to carry around a glucose meter, remember to measure their levels or prick their fingers for blood every time they do. According to the American Diabetes Assn., more than 29 million Americans have diabetes. 

"If it is accurate and affordable, it could be an absolute game changer," Weisenberger said in a phone call.

The Google smart contact lens' sensors and microchips could also help those with presbyopia regain their eyes' ability to focus on things that are near them, Novartis said. The technology could also have applications beyond the medical field.  

Google has filed for a patent that describes tiny cameras capable of fitting within the contact lens. These cameras could provide users with extended eyesight or the ability to zoom in on faraway objects. The imagery could also be processed by the connected smartphone and relayed back to the user with additional data displayed through the contact lens, similar to Arnold Schwarzenegger's vision in the "Terminator" movies. 

The medical company said the miniaturized technology used in the contact lens could have other medical applications.

"This is a key step for us to go beyond the confines of traditional disease management, starting with the eye," said Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez in a statement. 

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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