Diabetes: the Apple Watch as a continuous blood glucose monitor

Since acquiring handheld spectrometry pioneer Rare Light in 2010, Apple has dreamed of measuring blood sugar in real time. After ten years of work and the design of a brand new technology, this ambition remains illusory, despite undeniable progress. Never mind, with a little trickery and a few lines of code, engineer and generative art creator Harley Turan turned her Apple Watch into a continuous monitor.

Image Harley Turan/WatchGeneration.

The measurement of blood sugar remains associated with the image of “lancing devices”, equipped with a lancet that is used to prick the tip of the finger, in order to form a droplet of blood that is deposited on the strip or the electrode of a reader. But continuous measurement monitors are increasingly common: they take data collected by a sensor that measures the level of glucose in the interstitial fluid.

These devices facilitate the comparison of measurements, and therefore the management of diabetes, but do not prevent the painful puncture, to insert the filament into the layer of subcutaneous fat. The sensor, placed on the back of the arm, must be changed every five to fourteen days depending on the model. Turan especially regrets that the Libreview application that accompanies its Abbott FreeStyle Libre sensors is quite unstable.

And you have to go to the measurement: take out the phone, launch the application, bring the device closer to the sensor, wait for the data transfer… “Once you get used to it, it’s not practical enough”explains the artist, “Blood glucose measurement remains a reactive rather than a proactive process. » Why not retrieve sensor data automatically?

The MiaoMiao reader connects to Abbott FreeStyle Libre sensors, retrieves measurements every five minutes, and can transmit them via Bluetooth. Which brings us back to the Apple Watch: since watchOS 8, an application can retrieve data in the background, and therefore dynamically refresh its complications.

Turan has designed a small app that displays sensor data, as well as the charge level of the MiaoMiao reader, and the number of days remaining before replacing the Abbott FreeStyle Libre sensor. The complication displays the last measurement, and above all the trend, in order to anticipate hypo- or hyperglycaemia.

The application and its complications. Image Harley Turan/WatchGeneration.

Refreshed twelve times per hour, it offers immediate feedback, without even having to think about it. The artist’s approach is tinkering, of course, but a decade ago it would have been science fiction:

In short, this means that we can now design a completely independent Apple Watch application to take blood sugar levels continuously without the need for another device. Whether it’s to go for a swim in the ocean, to go for a run, to go shopping, or any other time when we don’t have a phone handy, we can now further reduce the size of our watch-sized digital pancreas on our wrist and a coin on our arm.

Dexcom has been offering a similar application for a few months, with its G6 continuous monitor, which may give hope for a generalization of the concept. It will then remain to realize the dream of a non-invasive measurement, within a device as common and affordable as a connected watch. We are still far from it, but we have never been so close.

Blood sugar: non-invasive measurement methods are progressing, but are still far from the Apple Watch

Blood sugar: non-invasive measurement methods are progressing, but are still far from the Apple Watch

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