— Imagine seeing a readout of your glucose levels — on your contact lenses.
That's what University of Washington researchers are working on. Associate professor Babak Parviz presented the work Tuesday afternoon at the NASA Langley Research Center and Tuesday night at the Virginia Air & Space Center.
These contact lenses of the future are intended to monitor the wearer's health through the biochemistry of the eye surface and display information to the person wearing them.
"The surface of the human eye has a wealth of information about the human body," Parviz said. "In a very noninvasive way, you can monitor what's going on inside the body without going inside."
Don't want it displayed on your contact? Theoretically, the information could be beamed to your cell phone and e-mailed to you, Parviz said.
So far, researchers have been able to build contacts with tiny antennas, radios and light sources. The components are so small they resemble a grainy powder.
To assemble the lenses, researchers cut shapes into the contact lens base, submerge it into a liquid and "wash" the tiny components over it. The different-shaped parts fit like pieces of a puzzle into the base. The pieces are locked into place by a drop in temperature.
At the moment, the contacts, which are more like hard contact lenses than soft lenses, can display only a simple dot in either red or blue. They haven't reached the sci-fi, "Terminator"-level work yet. Eventually, researchers hope to add more advanced displays.
One day, Parviz imagines people could wear contacts that display computer screens.
Researchers are testing them in rabbits now and are a long way from putting them in the human eye, Parviz said.
Possible medical uses include monitoring glucose, cholesterol, temperature, inflammation, infection or fatigue.
Funding sources include the National Science Foundation and Microsoft, Parviz said. Major contact lens manufacturers and the video game industry are interested in their work, he said.
How it works
Researchers are building tiny sensors, antennas and radios into contact lenses. Using short-range wireless communication, the contacts would communicate with a mobile device, such as the wearer's cell phone.