Diabetic patients need to measure their blood sugar level by drawing blood before and after a meal. It is easy to develop complications due to diabetes. Recently, a research team from Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) developed technology that allows diagnosis of diabetes and treatment of diabetic retinopathy just by wearing smart light-emitting diode (LED) contact lens. With this technology, it the researchers hope to develop wearable diagnostic and therapeutic devices for diabetes.

Fundamental mechanisms underlying representative photonic healthcare applications. (Credit: Nat Rev Mater (2020) doi:10.1038/s41578-019-0167-3)

Prof. Sei Kwang Hahn and his research team, including PhD student Geon-Hui Lee, invented a smart photonic contact lens and a wearable medical device that can diagnose diabetes and treat diabetic retinopathy. Their new research results on photonic diagnosis and photonic therapy of diabetes are published online in the journal Nature Reviews Materials in collaboration with a research group led by Zhenan Bao from department of chemical engineering at Stanford University and David Myung from Stanford Medicine Ophthalmology.

The research team successfully developed a smart contact lens with integrated micro LED and photodetector that can measure glucose concentration in the conjunctival blood vessels by analyzing the NIR light. With this development, they succeeded in diabetic diagnosis.

They put their new smart LED contact lenses on rabbits’ eyes with diabetic retinopathy disease and irradiated light repeatedly for a month. As a result, they confirmed that there was significant reduction of angiogenesis (production of new blood vessels) in the retina and verified clinical feasibility of the smart LED contact lens for the diabetic retinopathy therapy. This newly developed device will not only let diabetic patients monitor their blood-sugar level in real time, but it will also enable medical treatment for retinopathy caused by diabetic complications.

Additionally, Hahn and his research team have begun developing a smart contact lens that can diagnose diabetes by analyzing the glucose concentration in tears and can deliver drugs to treat diabetic retinopathy. Preliminary clinical tests for the developers are expected to be done in the first half of this year

On the basis of these results, they also developed a smart wearable medical device that can perform highly sensitive analysis on the glucose concentration in sweat and verified that it could be clinically feasible for diabetic diagnosis. Also, with PHI Biomed company, they developed a Bluetooth system that can send data wirelessly, allowing patients to check their diabetic diagnosis results on their mobile phones.

“We developed a smart LED contact lens that can diagnose diabetes and treat diabetic retinopathy with light for the first time in the world,” says Hahn. We are planning to commercialize these smart contact lenses and smart wearable medical devices in collaboration with Stanford Medicine.”

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