Apple makes major progress on no-prick blood glucose tracking for its watch

Apple Watch No-Prick Glucose Monitor
Apple’s glucose monitoring system could ultimately find its way into the company’s smartwatch line.

Apple is currently working on a project known as E5, which aims to monitor blood glucose levels without requiring blood to be taken through skin pricks. The technology uses silicon photonics chips and a measurement process called optical absorption spectroscopy. In this process, lasers emit specific wavelengths of light into the interstitial fluid below the skin, which can be absorbed by glucose, before being reflected back to the sensor to determine the concentration of glucose. If successful, the system could revolutionize diabetes care, an industry worth billions of dollars, and could cement Apple’s position in the health care industry.

The project, which has been ongoing for over a decade, is considered to be at a proof-of-concept stage, with Apple still needing to work on reducing the size of the prototype device. Currently, engineers are developing a device about the size of an iPhone that can be strapped to a person’s bicep, which is a significant reduction from the early versions of the technology that sat atop a table.

The potential benefits of a noninvasive and continuous blood glucose monitoring system are substantial. Diabetes is a significant health issue in the US, with approximately 1 in 10 Americans diagnosed with diabetes. Current devices used by diabetics require blood samples to be taken from the skin, with some requiring insertion of patches into the skin, which need to be replaced every two weeks. If Apple succeeds in developing its technology, it would be a game-changer for the industry and would likely make the Apple Watch an essential device for millions of diabetics worldwide.

One of the goals of the E5 project is to create a preventative measure that warns people if they are prediabetic. This would allow people to make lifestyle changes to avoid developing Type 2 diabetes, which occurs when a person’s body does not use insulin properly. Apple’s regulatory team has already held early discussions about getting government approval for the system.

Numerous startups and large companies have tried and failed to develop a noninvasive monitoring system, including Google, which announced plans in 2014 to develop smart contact lenses that could measure blood glucose through teardrops but shelved the complex project in 2018. However, Apple’s senior executives believe that they are uniquely positioned to crack this problem, given the company’s expertise in hardware and software integration and its deep pockets. The project has already cost hundreds of millions of dollars and involves hundreds of engineers who work for Apple’s Exploratory Design Group (XDG).

Apple’s exploration of noninvasive blood glucose monitoring is part of a larger trend of technology companies moving into the healthcare industry. Companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft are investing in healthcare technologies and services. Apple, in particular, has been investing heavily in healthcare and has been promoting the Apple Watch as a health monitoring device. The first model of the Apple Watch, launched in 2015, included a heart-rate sensor but was primarily focused on fitness tracking. Since then, it has gained the ability to take electrocardiograms (ECGs) from the wrist, sense body temperature for women’s health tracking, and calculate blood oxygen levels.

Apple’s focus on healthcare is not surprising, given the growing importance of the industry. Healthcare spending in the US is expected to reach $6.2 trillion by 2028, up from $3.6 trillion in 2018. The aging population, rising chronic disease prevalence, and increasing demand for healthcare services are driving the growth. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of telemedicine and remote health monitoring, which Apple is well-positioned to capitalize on with its existing technologies.

In conclusion, Apple’s project E5 is a potentially game-changing endeavor that could revolutionize the diabetes industry. If successful, it could be a preventative measure that warns people if they are at risk of developing diabetes and help those who already have the condition better manage their blood sugar levels. With the use of non-invasive technology and data analysis, Apple’s E5 project has the potential to improve the lives of millions of people living with diabetes. While the project is still in its early stages and there are no guarantees of success, Apple’s track record of innovation and commitment to improving healthcare gives reason for hope. As we wait for more updates on E5, we can anticipate that it may lead to significant advancements in diabetes care and prevention.

Source: Bloomberg