Apple has been quietly working on sensors for measuring blood sugar, according to a new report, which could be a significant breakthrough for diabetes patients.
The company has hired a small team of biomedical engineers to build a non-invasive sensor for monitoring glucose levels, claims CNBC, and has even started clinical trials in the Bay Area, while working with consultants to navigate tricky health regulations.
The report says that the project has been ongoing for at least five years, and as of a year ago had as many as 30 people on the team, reporting to Apple's senior vice president of hardware technologies, Johny Srouji. It goes on to state that Apple's non-invasive technique would use optical sensors to shine through the skin and read blood sugar level - the Apple Watch being the most likely vessel for this technology.
But here's the thing: non-invasive glucose tracking is yet to be proven as a viable alternative to existing methods. As we recently explored, continuous trackers require a sensor to be put under the skin - and still demand fingerstick readings to calibrate.
There are other routes being taken: we also spoke to engineers at Oregon State University who have created a contact lens they claim will be able predict glucose levels with tear fluid as accurately as a finger prick. Google has been working on something similar, though last we heard it had been put on hold.
But reading through the skin? That's a different ball game. There's no denying this would be a huge deal if Apple made it work, but it's a big if. When it comes to heart rate sensors for fitness it can afford some degree of inaccuracy, but with glucose monitoring there's less margin for getting it wrong.
More than 29 million people in the US suffer from diabetes, and many struggle to keep the condition in balance. "On average a lot of diabetes patients aren't achieving what they want, and that's all about their glucose control," Jake Leach, senior VP of research and development at glucose monitoring system maker Dexcom, told us. "So if we can provide them with better information to make better decisions on managing their diabetes, I think we can get some of these better outcomes that are going to ultimately reduce the cost of managing diabetes."
If Apple could one day offer a non-invasive, medically accurate glucose monitor into the Apple Watch - or another wearable - it would have a device that's an essential for millions of people around the world.
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