Did a startup invent the holy grail of health wearables? Quantum Operation Incorporated, headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, claims their noninvasive (no-prick) glucometer accurately estimates blood glucose. Quantum’s technology should hit markets in late 2021 or early 2022.
If it works, the wearable could prevent 1.6-million diabetes deaths, and countless amputations, each year. But the big question: will a functional blood-glucose tracking bracelet ever reach the United States or Europe?
Quantum’s Wearable Blood Glucose Tracker: US Markets?
According to Sumitaka Maruyama, a member of Quantum’s board of directors, the US and European markets might see the technology. On one hand, the US market offers distinct advantages over other regions because of the looser regulatory and device-validation requirements for devices with a potential medical use, particularly for devices already on the market.
On the other hand, because Quantum offers licenses, Fitbit or Apple could simply incorporate the Quantum’s sensor into a future product line, with little difficulty.
However, the future of the technology hinges on whether or not it works as advertised.
How Does Quantum’s Wearable Blood-Glucose Monitor Work?
Maruyama claims that Quantum’s technology can pull it off glucose measurement with an accuracy comparable to a FreeStyle Libre. The trick? Quantum claims to have solved a problem that has plagued the wearables industry: glucose measurement from a noninvasive wearable bracelet.
The Quantum glucometer’s basic technology relies on infrared light, using a technique known as photoplethysmography (PPG). PPG is a cheap and effective sensor technology. You’ve seen them used on the FitBit and Apple Watch. In fact, both devices can detect atrial fibrillation, a heart-rate disorder.
With blood-glucose monitoring, though, there’s a big problem: blood-glucose monitoring is dramatically more difficult to pull off than predicting irregular heart beats. Because a host of other chemicals float around in the blood stream, accurate measurement is difficult. For a light-based sensor to work, it must direct a beam of light through the outer layer of skin into the arterial blood sources, bounce the beam off glucose suspended in blood, and then capture the reflected light with a sensor. And because of the amount of interference generated by other compounds suspended in blood, accurate measurement requires a very specific bandwidth of infrared light as well as special hardware components that reduce signal interference.
Can Quantum’s Technology Work in a Fitbit?
Despite using similar PPG sensors, Quantum’s technology is incompatible with existing wearables, such as a Fitbit.
A standard blood-oximeter sensor doesn’t offer the correct type of light source or software to monitor blood glucose. Additionally, the infrared sensors used to measure blood oxygen are easily thrown off by minor amounts of movement and external light sources. So an exercise-oriented wearable may not work with Quantum’s algorithm. Maruyama declined to comment on this concern.
Even so, Quantum seeks to license their technology out to companies like Fitbit and Apple. A large enough manufacturer might introduce the technology into consumer markets. But that’s only if the technology works as advertised.
Are Wearable Blood Glucose Trackers Possible? Science Says “Yes”
Accurate PPG-based glucometers already exist. The science goes back to at least 1994, but a 2012 study concluded that the technology isn’t just viable, but also accurate.
The FreeStyle Libre and DexCom G6 offer disposable, noninvasive stick-on sensors with glucose tracking. They suffer from extraordinary cost as well as poor environmental-sustainability. While the FreeStyle Libre’s up-front cost isn’t bank-breaking, its long-term price stretches into the extreme. The FreeStyle’s and DexCom’s sensors use non-replaceable batteries and require a $ 100 replacement every ten days, which adds up to $ 3,650 per year.
Quantum claims that their wearable tracker offers nearly the same level of accuracy as the FreeStyle Libre, but without a $ 100 weekly replacement cost. A wrist-mounted blood-glucose tracker could change the game, making life-saving alert systems available to everyone suffering from diabetes.