Tech firms set sights on blood sugar testing

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.

Apple, Samsung, and Google, searching for applications that could turn wearable technology like smartwatches and bracelets from curiosities into must-have items, have all set their sites on monitoring blood sugar.

These firms are variously hiring medical scientists and engineers, asking US regulators about oversight and developing glucose- measuring features in future wearable devices.

The first round of technology may be limited, but eventually the firms could compete in a global blood-sugar tracking market worth over $12bn (€8.8bn) by 2017.

Many diabetics prick their fingers as much as 10 times a day in order to check levels of a type of sugar called glucose.

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 shone through the skin so that a spectroscope could measure for indications of glucose.

“All the biggies want glucose on their phone,” said John Smith, former chief scientific officer of Johnson & Johnson’s LifeScan, which makes blood glucose monitoring supplies. “Get it right, and there’s an enormous payoff.”

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.

Silicon Valley is already opening its vast wallet.

Medtronic senior vice president of medicine and technology Stephen Oesterle recently said he now considers Google to be the medical device firm’s next great rival, thanks to its funding for research and development&.

“We spend $1.5bn a year on R&D at Medtronic — and it’s mostly D,” he told the audience at a recent conference. “Google is spending $8bn a year on R&D and, as far as I can tell, it’s mostly R.”

Google has been public about some of its plans: it has developed a ‘smart’ contact lens that measures glucose. 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.

Apple’s efforts centre on its iWatch, which is on track to ship in October. It is not clear whether the initial release will incorporate glucose-tracking sensors.

Still, Apple has poached executives and bio-sensor engineers from such medical technology firms as Masimo, Vital Connect, and the now-defunct glucose monitoring startup, C8 Medisensors.

Samsung was among the first tech companies to produce a smartwatch. It since has introduced a platform for mobile health, called Simband.

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