The moonshot- style project of Apple is underway that dates back to the era of Steve Jobs. It is noninvasive and continuous blood glucose monitoring and it is to measure how much glucose is in present in someone’s body without any taking out blood from the body.
After hitting major milestones recently, the company has added that it could eventually bring glucose monitoring to market and if it is perfected then it would be a huge boon to diabetics and Apple might become a big name in health care as well.
There’s still some work left but it can be a huge breakthrough. 1 out of 10 Americans have diabetes and they depend on blood sample. There are also patches from Dexcom Inc. and Abbott Laboratories but it takes time.
Apple is taking a different approach, using a chip technology known as silicon photonics and a measurement process called optical absorption spectroscopy. The system uses lasers to emit specific wavelengths of light into an area below the skin where there is interstitial fluid — substances that leak out of capillaries — that can be absorbed by glucose. The light is then reflected back to the sensor in a way that indicates the concentration of glucose. An algorithm then determines a person’s blood glucose level.
There are large number of engineers working on the project as part of Apple’s Exploratory design group. It’s one of the most covert initiatives at the famously secretive Apple. Even fewer people are involved in it than the company’s self-driving car undertaking, overseen by the Special Projects Group, or the mixed-reality headset, which is being developed by its Technology Development group.
A spokesperson for Cupertino, California-based Apple declined to comment. A representative for Abbott, meanwhile, said it’s also developing new glucose monitoring products.
Apple has tested its glucose technology on hundreds of people over the past decade. In human trials, it has used the system with people who don’t know if they’re diabetic, as well as people with prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes.
Apple’s system — more than 12 years in the making — is now considered to be at a proof-of-concept stage.
One of Apple’s goals for the technology is to create a preventative measure that warns people if they’re prediabetic. They then could make changes in lifestyle and avoid developing Type 2 diabetes.
But there’s a reason it’s considered a moonshot goal. Numerous startups — and some of the world’s largest companies — have tried and failed to develop a noninvasive monitoring system.
The Apple Watch has gradually become more of a health tool. The first model, launched in 2015, included a heart-rate sensor but was more focused on fitness tracking. The device gained the ability to take electrocardiograms, or ECGs, from the wrist in 2018. It also can now sense body temperature — for women’s health tracking — and calculate blood oxygen levels.
While Apple has made major technology strides on the glucose effort, it suffered a recent setback: The group’s leader, longtime scientist and engineering executive Bill Athas, passed away unexpectedly at the end of 2022. The work is now led by a few of Athas’s top deputies, including managers Dave Simon and Jeff Koller. They report to Johny Srouji, Apple’s chips chief.
The project began in 2010 when Apple purchased a startup named RareLight that touted an early approach to noninvasive blood glucose monitoring.
It was Steve Jobs, dealing with his own health problems, directed the iPhone maker to buy the company. Apple tapped Bob Messerschmidt, RareLight’s founder, to kick off its own work on a glucose monitor, which was initially codenamed E68. Messerschmidt now runs a health company called Cor Health.The deal ultimately happened because of “Jobs’s vision of health care combined with technology,”.