After reigning the computer, mobile, and smartwatch market, Apple is now planning to make its mark in the field of bioscience. The Cupertino giant, as a fresh CNBC report suggests, has hired a small team of biomedical scientists to secretly develop technology which can be used to track blood sugar levels in an effort to support patients with diabetes.
As the report suggests, citing three sources privy to the development, the idea to venture into the development of medical sensors was initially brewed by late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. He wanted to develop sensors that can non-invasively (without the introduction of instruments into the body) and continuously monitor the blood sugar levels. This means the company is planning to monitor sugar levels through contact with the skin rather than blood tests or similar mechanisms. One source stated,
Apple is developing optical sensors, which involves shining a light through the skin to measure indications of glucose.
This project if successful, the report adds, could prove to be a “holy grail” for life science engineers. Apple is said to be tackling a near-impossible challenge, which has been tried by various medical hardware companies. But, they’ve all failed at achieving a breakthrough in tracking the sugar levels by just placing the device against the skin. But, the question is — how far has Apple progressed in building a sensor with the said capabilities?
It has further been added that Apple’s super-secretive sensor development team, whose existence is no longer a secret, is working out of an office in Palo Alto, away from its home. The Cupertino giant’s efforts in the said direction have been operational for the previous five odd years. It has now reached the stage where the scientists have started conducting feasibility trials at clinical sites across the Bay Area. This secondary office is also said to have hired consultants to help Apple navigate through complex regulatory and legal hurdles.
This biosciences team is reportedly being spearheaded by Johny Srouji, Apple’s senior VP of hardware technologies. Prior to him, the team was the responsibility of Michael D. Hillman – who left the company back in 2015 to join Facebook’s Oculus VR division. CNBC further reports that it is a completely confidential and closed operation, employing just 30 people including some Apple Watch team members and biomedical experts from companies such as Vital Connect, Masimo Corp, Sano, Medtronic, and C8 Medisensors. They were hired back in 2015 and instigated the rumors of this secretive bio-tech project.
But, developing only the biomedical sensors wouldn’t be enough for a hardware giant of Apple stature. And it has never been the plan from the get go. Jobs envisioned the integration of glucose level detection sensors into a smartwatch-like product. And now, if they’re successful in building this technology then they already have the widely popular Apple Watch to embed the sensors and make life a tad bit easier for diabetic people. They would be able to distance themselves from the continuous pricking and blood tests.
Apple, however, is not the only technology giant working on the amalgamation of biology and technology efforts. Facebook, as well as Google, have set up dedicated subsidiaries to curb the spread of life-threatening diseases across the globe. The former recently brought in over forty-seven research teams and awarded them about $50 million in grants to work on initiatives ranging from organ printing techniques or cell reproduction to solve the world’s biggest health problems. Called Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, the social networking giant’s efforts now span to prevent the spread of infectious diseases — Zika virus, SARS, dengue and other diseases.
While Facebook may be working towards disease-elimination, Google parent Alphabet is operating in the same domain as Apple. The Mountain View-based tech giant’s life science subsidiary ‘Verily’ is said to working on the development of smart contact lenses which can also detect blood glucose levels through the eye. Temasek has reportedly pumped in a massive $800 million investment into the said division but the progress, as announced by Google and Novartis, has been delayed indefinitely due to technological difficulties. It is not especially easy to develop wireless medical devices — that too ones as small as contact lenses.