An exciting new partnership between pharma giant Novartis and tech giant Google was announced this week. The Alcon branch of Novartis, which produces some of the most used contact lens brands in the world, are licensing Google smart lens to get it developed for medical use.
Initially developed by Google Research with a focus on the diabetic market (the idea is to monitor blood glucose levels with tears, with the information sent in real time to an app), Alcon hopes to open this to the wider ocular health market. This includes vision correction for people with presbyopia, a condition that makes it difficult to focus on nearby objects, although no detail on how they will achieve this has yet been released. The smart lens technology involves non-invasive sensors, microchips and other miniaturised electronics which are embedded in the contact lens.
Jeff George, Alcon’s division head, said that the company’s aim is to ‘unlock a new frontier to jointly address the unmet medical needs of millions of eye care patients around the world.’
Eye health is not a new string to the bow of technological innovation though. A team of ophthalmologists, engineers, business experts and software developers at Peekvision have targeted ocular health in the developing world, creating an app and add-on for smartphones to take high res retinal images and then diagnose conditions remotely. With 80% of the world’s blindness being avoidable, they are going a long way to improving that figure and are already implementing it across other locations globally.
Clunky, but effective
Another piece of eye health news that hit the web recently is glasses developed by Oxford University which help people with severe sight loss to see again. While many individuals rely on guide dogs to avoid obstacles and guide them to their destination, their furry companion cannot convey information about other items of potential interest in the environment to his/her human companion. Using this technology would improve the lives of millions, making many independent again. The headset is currently the size of a usual prototype (clunky and cumbersome), but with the speed of technological advances, we would be surprised if this weren’t out before long.
Dr Stephen Hicks of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Oxford says: ‘We eventually want to have a product that will look like a regular pair of glasses and cost no more than a few hundred pounds—about the same as a smartphone.’
As with all technology, it takes time for prototypes to be developed into fully fledged, saleable products, but we are excited for the new developments to come.