If they get it right, it could be amazing for people with diabetes.
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Tech giant Apple has reportedly assembled a secret team of biomedical engineers to develop sensors that would continuously monitor blood sugar levels, sans finger pricks, to help better treat diabetes. Well, the initiative is not so secret anymore now that CNBC published a story on it; here's what they found out.
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs envisioned wearables being used to track vital signs, including oxygen levels, heart rate, and blood sugar (aka blood glucose). The Apple watch already has heart rate sensors and the company has allegedly been working on blood sugar sensors for at least five years. One of the sources said Apple is developing optical glucose sensors that continuously track blood sugar by shining a light through the skin. Accurately monitoring glucose in this way (that is, without piercing the skin) is a white whale that other companies have tried and failed to capture, so it would be a huge deal if Apple gets it right. (Google announced in 2014 that it was working on a contact lens that could monitor glucose through people's tears but development appears to have stalled.)
The project, which was Jobs' brainchild, is far enough along that the company has been conducting feasibility trials and has hired consultants to help navigate the approval and regulatory process, according to three people familiar with the matter.
Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) already exist, but they require inserting tiny sensors under the skin that transmit data to a pager-sized wireless monitor. These sensors have to be replaced regularly and CGMs—available by prescription only—still require daily calibration with a traditional finger-prick glucose meter. You can see why tracking glucose on, say, an Apple Watch might sound more appealing than these options for people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
But in our metrics-obsessed society, there are also some non-diabetics who want to track their blood sugar for "wellness" purposes, including mental optimization. Gizmodo reported in February that Sano Intelligence plans to market an adhesive sensor to non-diabetics for "metabolic insight."
Unlike a CGM, an Apple Watch with an optical glucose sensor would not be a medical device unless it's marketed to people with diabetes—otherwise it's just a consumer product and thereby would not require FDA approval. But perhaps Apple wants FDA approval anyway, as evidenced by the hiring of those consultants. Though in an interview with The Telegraph back in 2015, Apple CEO Tim Cook said of the Apple Watch: "We don't want to put the Watch through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) process. I wouldn't mind putting something adjacent to the Watch through it, but not the Watch, because it would hold us back from innovating too much, the cycles are too long."
So maybe the company is working on a device separate from the watch; we simply don't know, as Apple declined to comment for the CNBC story.
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