Apple has quietly put together a small team of biomedical engineers to work on a new form of sensor that would be able to monitor blood glucose levels non-invasively and continuously, CNBC reports. Citing people familiar with the matter, the team is part of a “super secret initiative” that was initially envisioned by Steve Jobs, and is located in a nondescript office several miles away from Apple’s corporate headquarters. Numerous life sciences companies have attempted to create such sensors with no success due to the challenges in accurately tracking blood glucose levels without piercing the skin, so the ability to do accomplish this would be a significant breakthrough. The project has reportedly reached the point that Apple has been running feasibility trials at several clinical sites in the Bay Area, and has also hired consultants to attempt to navigate the regulatory channels.
Sources indicated that the efforts have been going on for at least five years, and it was the original vision of Jobs that wearable devices should be able to monitor important vitals. Apple acquired a company called Cor back in 2010 that was working on sensor technologies for health and wellness, along with its CEO Bob Messerschmidt, who became a team lead in the development of the Apple Watch. Early rumours also suggested that the Apple Watch would incorporate up to 10 sensors, including ones for blood glucose monitoring, and that Apple was waiting for FDA approval, but this was followed by a 2015 report which revealed that while Apple had intended to focus primarily on health and fitness, the company was forced to remove much of the functionality due to reliability problems and “unwanted regulatory oversight.” However, Apple CEO Tim Cook suggested last year that Apple hasn’t entirely abandoned that vision for the future, which is likely where this new team comes in.
The secretive team apparently reports to Johny Srouji, Apple’s senior VP of hardware technologies, and had about 30 people working in the group as of a year ago, but there’s speculation that the team has increased with Apple’s recent hires of about a dozen biomedical experts from various other companies. The team is apparently comprised of biomedical experts dedicated to the field of glucose monitoring along with engineers from the Apple Watch team. One source indicated that Apple is working to develop an optical sensor that would shine a light through the skin to measure glucose levels, however accurately detecting glucose levels without penetrating the skin has been an extremely elusive challenge that even top experts in the field have described as the most difficult they have ever encountered in their entire careers, and would likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars to succeed. Such a breakthrough would be huge, however, for the millions of people with diabetes, and could potentially turn the Apple Watch into an indispensable device.