Despite or perhaps because of lackluster sales, Apple Inc. is doubling down on its smartwatch by looking to add diabetes-focused blood sugar level testing to future models.
According to sources quoted by CNBC, Apple has hired a small team of biomedical engineers to “work at a nondescript office in Palo Alto, California, miles from corporate headquarters” as part of a “super secret initiative, initially envisioned by the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, to develop sensors that can noninvasively and continuously monitor blood sugar levels to better treat diabetes.”
The ability to measure blood sugar levels, described as being a “holy grail” for life sciences should Apple manage to deliver, has apparently progressed to the stage of “feasibility” trials at clinics across the San Francisco Bay Area.
About 29 million people, or more than 9 percent of the population of the United States alone, were believed to have diabetes as of 2014, with a staggering 8.1 million people undiagnosed. The disease is described by some as a “disease of affluence” because of its increasing prevalence relative to the wealth of a given society.
Today, many people diagnosed with diabetes must test their blood sugar levels through a finger-prick test. Should Apple be successful in delivering blood sugar testing to the Apple Watch, that would no longer be required.
It’s not clear from the report how far advanced Apple is. But the 30 people working on the tech, said to report to Apple Senior Vice President of Hardware Technologies Johny Srouji, apparently have been working on it for as long as five years. The report does note that it’s believed Apple is developing optical sensors that shine a light through the skin to measure blood sugar levels.
Apple has previously shown an interest in medical applications through its Healthkit platform. It acts as a personal and central data collection point for connected third-party electronic accessories and wearable technology. It can directly monitor and analyze a user’s health data for medical and fitness purposes.
The house that Steve Jobs built isn’t alone in trying to build blood sugar level testing devices. The Alphabet Inc. division Verily Inc. is also said to be pursuing a “smart contact lens” that could measure blood sugar levels via a user’s eye.