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New Chefs In The Apple Health Kitchen: Diabetes Specialists

14 Apr, 2017
Apple hires secret team for treating diabetes

Apple has recently hired a bunch of biomedical engineers as a part of what seems to be a secret mission to fight diabetes. As initially envisioned by late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, this would be an R&D program to develop sensors to fight diabetes, by monitoring glucose levels.

While the company has for now declined to make a statement in this regard, many people supposedly familiar with the matter have come forward to share their “knowledge”.

The team is said to work at a nondescript office in Palo Alto, California, in close proximity to the Silicon Valley headquarters. While we do not know the details of the project yet, we do believe this is an adventure to create ‘breakthrough’ wearable devices that detect the disease and monitor blood-sugar levels.

The reason that this could prove to be instrumental in the field of medicine is because up until now it is impossible to monitor sugar levels without breaking through the skin. Electronic diabetes detection devices have proven to be lifesavers for the hundreds of millions of people who are affected by the ailment, but all of them require plucking through the skin to get blood, to discern the sugar level.

There is a cemetery full of efforts to measure glucose in a non-invasive way“, said DexCom chief executive Terrance Gregg, whose firm is known for minimally invasive blood-sugar techniques. “To succeed would require several hundred million dollars or even a billion dollars“.

What Apple has is much more than that, so it may well be investing some of it to solve this biggie.

Reports state that about 30 people are working on this project now, and the project has been in folds for about five years now. Reports also state that the team has been carrying out clinical trials in San Francisco, the results of which have not been revealed yet.
In addition, they have also reportedly hired consultants to look into the rules and regulations around bringing such a product to market.

For those of you who might be a little surprised, Apple, yes, the makers of the iPhone and the iPad, also have a secret workshop that they have had running for a while now. In this R&D workshop, they have been known to work on many non-phone related products, most of which are experimental for now.

This speaks to the larger Silicon Valley trend that Google, Microsoft, Facebook and the likes have also been feeding into, through their R&D divisions. From Artificial Intelligence, to automated cars, to technology that works with medicine – they’ve got a lot going on in their backyards.

The news of the project comes at a time when the line between pharmaceuticals and technology seems to be blurring, and quite fast. While on the one hand, you have scientists detecting rare genetic disorders wth facial recognition technology, on the other you have Elon Musk’s Neuralink that plans to work on the much risky uncharted territory of the brain.

The approach most companies are taking is of combining biology, software, and hardware,  to tackle chronic diseases using high-tech devices. This has led to the jump-start of a novel field of medicine called bioelectronics, and it’s gratifying to see that Apple is not the only player in the game on this one.

It was last year that another biggie came into the scene when GlaxoSmithKline Plc and Google’s parent Alphabet Inc. joined hands and unveiled a company aimed at making bioelectronic devices to fight illness by attaching to individual nerves. U.S. biotech firms Setpoint Medical and EnteroMedics have already shown that strides can be made with bioelectronics in treating rheumatoid arthritis and suppressing appetite in the obese. Medtronic Plc., Proteus Digital Technology, Sanofi SA, and Biogen Inc., are others that are playing in the field, trying to make a mark in this extremely interesting field.

Specifically, in the field of diabetes, Virta is a fairly new startup, which is working on tackling type 2 diabetes, to completely cure patients by remotely monitoring behavior. Livongo Health is another startup, which has recently raised about USD 52 million to launch its blood sugar monitoring product. Alphabet too is involved, via it’s subsidiary Verily who’s tried to tackle this big one with a smart contact lens that measures blood glucose levels through the eye, but that has not proven to be quite successful yet.

While we don’t know exactly what the shape of Apple’s project is, for now, yet it does seem to fit into the bigger vision of the company that Steve Jobs famously dreamed. Jobs believed Apple would one day be at the intersection of technology and biology, and making this happen would be a perfect manifestation of the same.

They are already halfway there with the Apple Watch which counts calories, and steps, takes heart rate, and other biological measures. Add this, and voila!