For decades, medical technology firms have searched for ways to let diabetics check blood sugar easily, with scant success. Now, the world's largest mobile technology firms are getting in on the act.
These firms are variously hiring medical scientists and engineers, asking U.S. regulators about oversight and developing glucose-measuring features in future wearable devices, the sources said.
The first round of technology may be limited, but eventually the companies could compete in a global blood-sugar tracking market worth over
Diabetes afflicts 29 million Americans and costs the economy some
Non-invasive technology could take many forms. Electricity or ultrasound could pull glucose through the skin for measurement, for instance, or a light could be shined through the skin so that a spectroscope could measure for indications of glucose.
"All the biggies want glucose on their phone," said
In a December meeting with
Such a device could avoid regulation if used for nutrition, but if marketed to diabetics, it likely would be regulated as a medical device, according to the summary, first reported by the Apple Toolbox blog.
The tech companies are likely to start off focusing on non-medical applications, such as fitness and education.
Even an educational device would need a breakthrough from current technology, though, and some in the medical industry say the tech firms, new to the medical world, don't understand the core challenges.
"There is a cemetery full of efforts" to measure glucose in a non-invasive way, said
The device, which uses tiny chips and sensors that resemble bits of glitter to measure glucose levels in tears, is expected to be years away from commercial development, and skeptics wonder if it will ever be ready.
Previous attempts at accurate non-invasive measurement have been foiled by body movement, and fluctuations in hydration and temperature. Tears also have lower concentrations of glucose, which are harder to track.
But the Life Sciences team in charge of the lens and other related research is housed at the Google X facility, where it works on major breakthroughs such as the self-driving car, a former employee who requested anonymity said.
"It has scooped up many of the most talented people with glucose-sensing expertise," said George Palikaras, CEO of Mediwise, a startup that hopes to measure blood sugar levels beneath the skin's surface by transmitting radio waves through a section of the human body.
The tech companies are also drawing mainstream interest to the field, he said. "When
Samsung was among the first tech companies to produce a smartwatch, which failed to catch on widely. It since has introduced a platform for mobile health, called Simband, which could be used on smart wrist bands and other mobile devices.
Samsung is looking for partners and will allow developers to try out different sensors and software. One Samsung employee, who declined to be named, said the company expects to foster noninvasive glucose monitoring.
Sources said Samsung is working with startups to implement a "traffic light" system in future Galaxy Gear smartwatches that flashes blood-sugar warnings.
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