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Researchers & Discoveries: An Eye for Medicine

University of Washington bionanotechnologist Babak Parviz on medical technology that can live on a contact lens
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Babak Parviz (Illustration by Graham Smith)

Babak Parviz (Illustration by Graham Smith)

WHAT’S HIS DEAL? Developing microelectronic-equipped contact lenses that will be able to read vital signs, like a diabetic’s blood-sugar levels, by way of fluids on the eye. “A lot of things in the body can be monitored via chemical parameters, and a lot of them show up on the surface of the eye. This could be a fundamentally new tool for medicine.”

HOW WOULD THAT WORK? Tiny sensors in the lens would continuously track glucose levels in the eye’s tear fluid, then transmit the information, via an embedded computer chip, to a doctor. Or even to the wearer, through the lens itself.

HOW WOULD THAT WORK? Parviz is also working on embedding contacts with tiny displays to bring the Internet directly to your eyeballs. Sort of like that “Google Glasses” video, which shows a man ambling through New York, scanning online maps and messaging friends through a pair of specially-equipped specs. Parviz is helping Google with that project.

HOW COULD YOU FIT ALL THAT ONTO A CONTACT LENS? The nanometer-scale components are so small that Parviz has developed techniques to make them self-assemble, using their chemical compositions to attract and bind them to each other.

BOTTOM LINE? “We’ve never had a method to monitor the body in a non-invasive, continuous way. We could track someone’s health in ways that were never possible before.”