Beyond tracking steps, Google develops a wearable that tracks glucose

Imagine the shock of being diagnosed with diabetes. The moment of diagnosis would likely be a watershed moment -- a before and after delineation of how you go about managing your day-to-day existence. For the rest of your life, you will need to: 

  • Monitor glucose through endless finger sticks

  • Count sugar and carb intake at every meal

  • Prioritize exercise as non-optional

  • Undergo a set of tests as part of each visit to the doctor

Diabetes is one of the most labor-intensive chronic diseases to manage. What if you could passively measure glucose and receive alerts when values are out of range? One way is to have a continuous glucose monitor attached directly to your body, cyborg style. Another way, courtesy of the good folks at Google, is to simply wear a contact lens outfitted with glucose-reading sensors.

 

 

This technology is still in Google's labs, but seems promising. According to Google:

We’re now testing a smart contact lens that’s built to measure glucose levels in tears using a tiny wireless chip and miniaturized glucose sensor that are embedded between two layers of soft contact lens material. We’re testing prototypes that can generate a reading once per second. We’re also investigating the potential for this to serve as an early warning for the wearer, so we’re exploring integrating tiny LED lights that could light up to indicate that glucose levels have crossed above or below certain thresholds. It’s still early days for this technology, but we’ve completed multiple clinical research studies which are helping to refine our prototype. We hope this could someday lead to a new way for people with diabetes to manage their disease.

 

A Diabetes Diagnosis is Serious

In addition to turning lifestyles upside down, diabetes is bad news for overall health and longevity. In 2007, diabetes contributed to 231,404 deaths -- putting it in the top 5 health-related causes of death. Here are just a few other hair-raising stats from the American Diabetes Association:

Heart disease and stroke

  • Adult diabetics are 2-4X more likely to die from heart disease
  • Adult diabetics are 2-4X more likely to have a stroke

High blood pressure

  • 67% of adult diabetics have high blood pressure

Kidney disease

  • 200,000+ in the US live on chronic dialysis / kidney transplant due to diabetes

Nervous system disease (Neuropathy)

  • 60-70% of adult diabetics have mild to severe forms of nervous system damage

Amputation and Blindness

  • Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults
  • Each year in the US, 65,000 adult diabetics have lower limbs amputated

 

Bottom Line

Each year, 2 million people receive the Type II diagnosis and join the 24 million Americans with the disease. It is easy to see how overwhelming this whole thing is. The good news is that mHealth tools can make a diabetic's life much more manageable. Here’s an example:

Health Management Area          Without mHealth With mHealth

Glucose Monitoring   

 

Manual  Google's smart contacts.

Blood Pressure

 

Manual  Blood pressure cuff connects directly to mobile device.

Medications

No systematic management Full medication list, photos of medications, dosage, and usage instructions are stored inside of a mobile app.

Labs

Paper file Longitudinal views of past lab values available on mobile app.

Weight

Manual Wifi-enabled scales upload all readings to the internet where they are stored and served to mobile devices.

Activity

Manual Accelerometer-enabled pedometers upload calories burned to mobile devices.

Sleep

Manual Accelerometer-enabled pedometers or connected sleep monitor upload quantity and quality of sleep to mobile devices.

Nutrition

Manual

Mobile and desktop tools enable users to save most frequently eaten foods and meals for quick logging. Nutrition info is served back to mobile phones.

 

Diabetes is a serious condition with major impact on lifestyle and mortality. The annual price tag for diabetes is $116 billion in direct medical costs. The stakes are high. The efficacy numbers on mHealth, with the Google contact lense would be part of, are starting to come in. Healthcare providers that "prescribe" mHealth tools as part of the care plan for newly-diagnosed Type II diabetics will give patients the best chance of successful care management.