Now, the world’s largest mobile technology firms are getting in on the act.
Apple, Samsung and Google, searching for applications that could turn nascent wearable technology like smartwatches and bracelets from curiosities into must-have items, are said to have set their sites on monitoring blood sugar.
These firms are variously hiring medical scientists and engineers, asking US regulators about oversight and developing glucose-measuring features in future wearable devices, sources told Reuters.
The first round of technology may be limited, but eventually the companies could compete in a global blood-sugar tracking market worth over $12bn by 2017, according to research firm GlobalData.
Diabetes afflicts an estimated 3 million people in the UK.
Many diabetics prick their fingers as much as 10 times daily in order to check levels of glucose.
Non-invasive technology could take many forms.
Electricity or ultrasound could pull glucose through the skin for measurement, for instance, or a light could be shined through the skin so that a spectroscope could measure for indications of glucose.
“All the biggies want glucose on their phone,” said John Smith, former chief scientific officer of Johnson & Johnson’s LifeScan, which makes blood glucose monitoring supplies. “Get it right, and there’s an enormous payoff.”
The tech companies are likely to start off focusing on non-medical applications, such as fitness and education.
Even an educational device would need a breakthrough from current technology, though, and critics say the tech companies don’t understand the core challenges.