- Apple could potentially come up with a new watch that would be able to diagnose blood sugar levels without pricking the finger.
- The method would use a chip technology, and would be determined through an algorithm.
Apple Inc. is working on a moonshot-style project that dates back to Steve Jobs’ era: noninvasive and continuous monitoring of blood glucose levels. The goal of this secret venture – dubbed E5 – is to measure glucose levels in someone’s body without pricking their skin. People familiar with the project believe that the company could eventually bring glucose monitoring to market after hitting major milestones in recent months.
In addition to benefitting diabetics, such a breakthrough would help cement Apple’s status as a healthcare powerhouse. Apple Watch, if equipped with a monitoring system, would become an essential device for millions of diabetics around the world.
It will take years for the move to take hold, but it could upend a multibillion-dollar industry. Approximately 1 in 10 Americans have diabetes and often take blood samples with a device that pokes the skin. Additionally, Dexcom Inc. and Abbott Laboratories make patches that are inserted into the skin and need to be replaced every two weeks.
Apple’s methods include a chip technology called silicon photonics and optical absorption spectroscopy measurement. Lasers emit specific wavelengths of light into an area under the skin where interstitial fluid – substances that leak out of capillaries – can be absorbed by glucose. Afterwards, the light is reflected back to the sensor, indicating how much glucose is in the sample. The blood glucose level of a person is then determined using an algorithm.
Apple’s Exploratory Design Group, or XDG, is working on the project, a previously unreported effort similar to Alphabet’s X moonshot division. In Apple’s famously secretive culture, it’s one of the most covert projects. Compared to the company’s self-driving car project, managed by its Special Projects Group, and its mixed-reality headset, developed by its Technology Development Group, fewer people are involved.
New age technology to diagnose diabetes
The glucose technology developed by Apple has been tested on hundreds of people over the past decade. The system has been used with people with pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes, as well as people who don’t know if they are diabetic. The company has compared its own technology to standard tests on capillary blood and vein blood taken from a prick on the skin.
Despite more than 12 years in the making, Apple’s system is now considered to be in the proof-of-concept stage, according to people who asked not to be identified because the project is confidential. Despite its viability, the technology needs to be sized down to make it more practical.
An iPhone-sized prototype device is being developed that can be worn on a person’s bicep. From an early version of the system, which sat atop a table, that would represent a significant reduction in size.
In addition to creating a preventative measure, Apple hopes to identify people who are prediabetic with the technology. Then they could alter their lifestyle to avoid developing Type 2 diabetes, which occurs when the body doesn’t use insulin properly. Government approval for the system has already been discussed by Apple’s regulatory team.