Example of biomedical industry's work on blood sensors

Example of biomedical industry’s work on blood sensors

Apple is moving to expand its personnel working on wearable computers and medical-sensor-laden devices by hiring more scientists and specialists in the medical sensor field. Apple began work in earnest on a watch-like device late last decade, and it has worked with increasing efficiency and more dedicated resources on the project over the past couple of years. Last year, we published an extensive profile that indicated Apple has hired several scientists, engineers, and managers in the field of biomedical technologies, glucose sensors, and general fitness devices…

Smartening the iWatch team

Over the past couple of months, Apple has been seeking even more engineering prowess to work on products with medical sensors. Earlier this year, two notable people from the medical sensor world joined Apple to work on the team behind the iWatch’s hardware vision. Apple has hired away Nancy Dougherty from startup Sano Intelligence and Ravi Narasimhan from general medical devices firm Vital Connect. In her former job, Dougherty was in charge of hardware development. Narasimhan was the Vice President of Research and Development at his previous employer.

Unobtrusive blood reading

sano

Sano Intelligence co-founders introducing their work (image)

Dougherty’s work at Sano Intelligence is incredibly interesting in light of Apple’s work on wearable devices, and it seems likely that she will bring this expertise from Sano over to Apple. While Sano Intelligence has yet to launch their product, it has been profiled by both The New York Times and Fast Company. The latter profile shares many details about the product: it is a small, painless patch that can work on the arm and uses needle-less technologies to read and analyze a user’s blood.

The needle-less, sensor-laden transdermal patch is painless (I handled a prototype, which felt like sandpaper on the skin) and will soon be able to monitor everything you might find on a basic metabolic panel–a blood panel that measures glucose levels, kidney function, and electrolyte balance. Already, Sano’s prototype can measure glucose and potassium levels. There are enough probes on the wireless, battery-powered chip to continuously test up to a hundred different samples, and 30% to 40% of today’s blood diagnostics are compatible with the device.

With the technology for reading blood able to be integrated into a small patch, it seems plausible that Apple is working to integrate such a technology into its so-called “iWatch.” For a diabetic or any other user wanting to monitor their blood, this type of innovation would likely be considered incredible. More so if it is integrated into a mass-produced product with the Apple brand. Just like Apple popularized music players and tablets, it could take medical sensor technology and health monitoring to mainstream levels.

Earlier this week, Google entered the picture of future medical devices by announcing its development of eye contact lenses that could analyze glucose levels via a person’s tears. This technology is seemingly far from store shelves as keeping the hardware in an eye likely poses several regulatory concerns. By putting similar technology on a wrist or an arm, perhaps Apple will be able to beat Google to market with this potentially life-changing medical technology.

Screen Shot 2014-01-17 at 4.33.55 PM

While the aforementioned work by Dougherty occurred at Sano Intelligence, the fact that she “solely” developed this hardware means that her move to Apple is a remarkable poaching for the iPhone maker and a significant loss for a small, stealth startup. She notes her involvement at Sano on her LinkedIn profile (which also confirms her new job at Apple):

- Hardware Lead in a very early stage company designing a novel system to continuously monitor blood chemistry via microneedles in the interstitial fluid. Brought system from conception through development and board spins to a functioning wearable pilot device.

- Solely responsible for electrical design, testing, and bring-up as well as system integration; managing contractors for layout, assembly, and mechanical systems

- Building laboratory data collection systems and other required electrical and mechanical systems to support chemical development

Dougherty’s work at Sano Intelligence was not her first trip in the medical sensor development field. Before joining that company, she worked on “research and development for an FDA regulated Class I medical device; a Bluetooth-enabled electronic “Band-Aid” that monitors heart rate, respiration, motion, and temperature” for another digital health company, according to her publicly available resume.

Patent portfolio

Screen Shot 2014-01-17 at 5.21.07 PM

At Vital Connect, Narasimhan was a research and development-focused vice president. As Vital Connect is a large company, it is unclear how responsible Narasimhan actually was for the hardware development, but it is clear that he has expertise in managing teams responsible for biosensors. Their sensor can be worn on the skin (usually around the chest area) and is able to monitor several different pieces of data. As can be seen in the description from Vital Connect (above), their technology can measure steps, skin temperature, respiratory rate, and can even detect falls. These data points would be significant compliments to a wearable computer that is already analyzing blood data.

Besides his management role at Vital Connect, Narasimhan comes to Apple with over “40 patents granted and over 15 pending,” according to his LinkedIn profile. Many of these patents are in the medical sensor realm, and this demonstrates how his expertise could assist Apple in its work on wearable devices. Narasimhan has patents for measuring the respiratory rate of a user, and, interestingly, the measurement of a person’s body in space to tell if they have fallen. The latter technology in a mass-produced device would likely improve the quality of life for the elderly or others prone to falling.

Of course, it is not certain that the work of either Narasimhan or Dougherty will directly appear in an Apple wearable computer or other device. What this information does indicate, however, is that Apple is growing its team of medical sensor specialists by hiring some of the world’s most forward-thinking experts in seamless mobile medical technologies.

Silicon Valley

Apple is not the only company boosting its resources for utilities that can measure blood. According to sources, other major Silicon Valley companies are racing Apple to hire the world’s top experts in blood monitoring through skin.

Other biometric technologies

CEBIT SENEX

In addition to focusing on sensors that could monitor a person’s activity, motion, and blood through the skin, sources say that Apple is actively working on other biometric technologies. As we reported in 2013, Apple is actively working on embedding fingerprint scanners into Multi-Touch screens. It seems plausible that in a few years down the roadmap, Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint scanners could be integrated into the iPhone or iPad screen, not into the Home button.

Perhaps more interesting, Apple is also actively investigating iris scanning technology, according to sources. This information comes as a Samsung executive confirmed that Samsung is developing iris scanning technologies for upcoming smartphones. It is currently unknown if iris scanning to unlock a phone will arrive with the Galaxy S5 this year.

Apple is also said to be studying new ways of applying sensors such as compasses and accelerometers to improve facial recognition. These technologies could be instrumental in improving security, photography, and other existing facets of Apple’s mobile devices. It does not immediately seem intuitive to have new facial and iris recognition technologies on wearable devices, so it is unlikely that those technologies will make the cut for the future “iWatch.”

Big plans

While 2013 focused on improvements to Apple’s existing software and hardware platforms, Apple CEO Tim Cook has teased that 2014 will include even bigger plans. “We have a lot to look forward to in 2014, including some big plans that we think customers are going to love,” Cook told employees in December of 2013. These plans likely include larger-screened iPhones and iPads, updates to iOS and OS X, and sources are adamant that Apple will revamp its television strategy this year. But is an iWatch in the cards of 2014? Only time will tell. Regardless of when the product is planned for launch, it appears that Apple is stacking up its resources to create a wearable computer that is truly groundbreaking for the medical world, and that the company will not introduce it until it is ready.

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20 Responses to “Apple continues hiring raid on medical sensor field as it develops eye scanning technology”

  1. drtyrell969 says:

    IRONY – Apple is advancing 1984 faster than any corporation on Earth.

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    • Canuk Storm says:

      Wrong. With the way that Google is going, they’ll get us to 1984 much faster.

      Like

    • mockery17 says:

      And you go around accusing Apple of being less innovative than Google. Then when they innovate, you call them advancing 1984. Then you also completely ignore the fact that Google is an advertising company deep in disguise, where every user’s data is sold.

      You just need to get lost. And get a life.

      Like

    • Kroo Smith says:

      Maybe you should have a look at this very interesting exposé of google.

      Like

      • Bob Smogango says:

        Google doesn’t have the most sophisticated search technology. They do horrible summarization, they don’t do contextual search, they don’t do categorization with any sophisticated taxonomy. Google is just marketed better so people use the term “Google” when thinking of internet searching, but their corporate search technology for internal search within a company is considered low end. IBM’s Watson is far more sophisticated and they are leveraging Apple to bring Watson to various industries for searching relevant information. Autonomy has far more sophisticated search for corporations internal information. It wouldn’t surprise me if some day Apple leverages IBM’s Watson for normal use.

        Google is like a McDonald’s hamburger. Search for the masses, but with no substance of high quality.

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  2. Would this be able to read blood alcohol levels? Tell me if I’m to drunk to drive.
    Apple is gonna blow away the competition on this, IMO
    I wonder if any other company in this ‘mobile device race’ has research for anything like this. They would be set back far feature wise to try to compete.

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    • Oflife says:

      Better is a system linked to the ignition system. “Sorry Dave, I can’t allow you to do that.”

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    • Bob Smogango says:

      There are BAC products that work with iPhones and mobile devices already, but you have to attach a device to the phone and blow. https://www.breathometer.com But it would be great if it was automatically sampling blood on a continual basis for everything, not just glucose levels or alcohol levels. It would certainly change the face of society if the Police had you put on a watch to test for drugs and alcohol when you get pulled over. They could streamline the process and probably shave a lot of money in the process as the data would be collected along with your arrest record and then there would quick justice. Lab tests are expensive and susceptible to flaws in the test results.

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  3. Imagine an iWatch monitoring accurately health vitals and blood chemistry and body position, it would be able to call 911 for someone in serious health troubles and give instantaneously his position to the operator vis GPS and simultaneously send the updated data to the ambulance and the medical team , think about how many lives could be saved if these informations arrived in time…

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  4. Such a device needs to be extremely accurate and with close to zero error probability, and it has to be tested as long as possible on the largest possible scale, before it sees the light .This is not a piece of software for which an apology letter is enough to be forgotten,this is human life for which an information wrongly or lately communicated, can make make the difference between life and death

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    • There is no zero error medical devices exist, no matter which method they use, always an estimated value not the truth value, it may occurs some error, but what we can do just try our best to minimize the potential error. Apart from exciting for this huge advance, i also a bit curious which method they use… cannot wait the product be released

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  5. If such device is going to succeed, there will be no more competitors for Apple at all

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  6. Damien Moye says:

    Mark of the beast. Revelation 13:17. That’s all I got to say.

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  7. Bob Ostle says:

    I strongly agree that it would be revolutionary for Apple to produce an integrated personal medical monitoring device (iMedic). However the potential liability costs of even a software glitch in such a device could bring Apple to it’s knees

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    • Bob Smogango says:

      Test equipment mfg don’t typically get sued for producing false reports. Can you name a medical test equipment mfg that’s gotten sued for false tests? It’s like those pregnancy tests, they tell you they aren’t 100%, but they are pretty accurate and that’s a pretty low tech device.

      All Apple has to do is make sure people know that they should consult with a physician, etc. verbiage when they buy a product to remove any liabilities is my guess on how they would handle it. People buy these thermometers now and they aren’t 100% accurate and no none sues these companies for giving a false reading.

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  8. I would like to see AAPL developing chip for continuous blood gas analysis in real time, which can help physicians like me to take actions long before any symptoms develop.

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  9. gigmom1 says:

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  10. Healthcare is a great space to bring some disruption to. At Leardon Solutions we have been developing medical devices and the innovation emerging in the field is remarkable. The way I see it, if Apple wins here, then everyone does since it drives a totally different type of competition.

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