Apple’s Secret Project to Monitor Blood Sugar for Diabetics

(Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with further information)

Recently, CNBC broke a story that Apple is supposedly working on some type of blood glucose monitoring system I am assuming would be connected to the iPhone and Apple Watch. It would allow diabetic patients to monitor their blood sugar readings in real time.

The story has gotten a bit of attention since any tool that helps people monitor their blood sugar electronically could be a big plus in managing their condition and keep them from having serious complications with this disease.

CNBC’s report says, “The efforts have been going on for at least five years, the people said. Jobs envisioned wearable devices, like smartwatches, being used to monitor important vitals, such as oxygen levels, heart rate and blood glucose. In 2010, Apple quietly acquired a company called Cor, after then-CEO Bob Messerschmidt reportedly sent Jobs a cold email on the topic of sensor technologies for health and wellness. Messerschmidt later joined the Apple Watch team.”

This story has great personal interest to me since I have been a type 2 diabetic for over 25 years. I have worked hard to keep my A1C numbers in check, a measurement that determines blood sugar numbers over a three month period. I have worked hard to keep my A1C numbers in check, a measurement that determines blood sugar numbers over a three month period. Non-diabetic’s have A1C numbers well under 5.0 and, as a diabetic, my safe numbers must be kept in the 6.0-7.0 range. Since the project is secret, the details in the CNBC story only suggests this project centers around some type of sensor that could monitor blood sugars.

If Apple did something like this, it would not be the first to deliver this type of solution. Dexcom has been one of the pioneer’s in this field (called Continuous Glucose Monitoring) and has been one of the leaders in this area for over three years.

I have used the Dexcom CGM for over a year now and it has changed the management of my diabetes for the better. I wear a sensor on my stomach that has two small hair-like wires that penetrate into my stomach and get blood sugar readings from an interstitial fluid just below the skin level every five minutes. When I first started using it, the accuracy rate was within 5-15% of actual glucose readings. But, in the last year, Dexcom has tweaked the software and now my readings are within four or five points of what I would get if I did a pinprick reading via some type of external blood testing kit. Sometimes my readings are even identical to the pinprick numbers, showing that Dexcom has made major strides in delivering more accurate readings through their system.

A wireless Bluetooth transmitter sits on top of the sensor and that sensor reading is sent to the Dexcom app on my iPhone. Dexcom also has an Apple Watch app. To get my current blood sugar reading, all I have to do is glance at my watch and I see what my current blood sugar is. This product has had a major impact on both type 1 and type 2 diabetics who can use it to get these continuous blood sugar readings and either adjust insulin, medicines, or food intake to more accurately keep their blood sugars in a safe range.

Dexom’s approach is called an invasive CGM because it does have these tiny needles going into the stomach to get these blood sugar readings. In fact, many of the other CGM devices being looked at now by the FDA for approval are still invasive. However, there is much work being done to try to get these blood sugar readings without any invasive technology and instead use light pulses or sensors through perhaps a wrist band or watch.

However, this is very hard to do and, as of this date, I have seen no versions of this even close to being in a place for the FDA to approve. Various reports have suggested Apple’s version might be one focused on this light sensor approach to getting blood sugar readings but that is highly speculative.

The only downside of this is cost. If a person were to pay for this solution out of pocket, the sensors cost $300 a month and a transmitter that lasts three months cost $250. Thankfully, in my case, my insurance covers 50% of this cost but even that it is still pricey for me and many who have proper medical insurance.

CGM’s have become so important to the treatment of diabetics that endocrinologists, the type of doctors who treat diabetics, have to pass a special section of their five-year board exams on this subject as CGMs have become a real tool in the treatment of diabetics.

For myself and other diabetics, an Apple product that would do this would be great. But a real breakthrough would be if they could price it well under what is available now and make this solution more price sensitive to millions of diabetics around the world.

If this story is true, this product would represent an important part of Apple’s commitment to health and wellness connected to their products and be seen as fulfilling a dream of Steve Jobs’ to use Apple technology to make people’s lives and health better.

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Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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