Apple is known more for trend setting technology than for advances in medicine.
But it seems a secret team of researchers at the company are working on marrying the two in order to tackle diabetes.
The project – envisioned by co-founder Steve Jobs before his death – could lead to ‘breakthrough’ wearable devices that detect the disease and monitor blood-sugar levels.
It is described as the ‘holy grail’ of life sciences, because it’s difficult to monitor blood sugar without breaking the skin.
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Apple has hired a team of biomedical engineers as part of the secret initiative, according to reports in CNBC.
Up to 30 people are believed to be working on the project, which has be running for five years – according to CNBC’s sources.
They say the firm has been carrying out clinical trials in San Francisco and has hired consultants to look into the rules and regulations around bringing such a product to market.
The engineers are said to be working from a nondescript office in Palo Alto, around 15 miles away from the new Apple corporate headquarters in Cupertino, California.
The researchers have been tasked with developing bio-sensors to monitor blood sugar levels.
Currently this involves taking regular blood samples, which can involve anything from a thumb-prick test to intravenous extraction.
The late Apple CEO envisaged the devices as another form of wearable technology, similar to a smartwatch or fitness monitors
And If the non-invasive sensors come to fruition, it would be a breakthrough moment for medical science.
‘There is a cemetery full of efforts’ to measure glucose in a non-invasive way, said DexCom chief executive Terrance Gregg, whose firm is known for minimally invasive blood-sugar motechniques.
To succeed would require ‘several hundred million dollars or even a billion dollars,’ he previously told Reuters.
The number of people with diabetes has risen from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014 – the latest year for which global figures are available – according to the World Heath Organisation.
The news comes at a time when the line between pharmaceuticals and technology is blurring.
Companies are joining forces to tackle chronic diseases using high-tech devices that combine biology, software and hardware.
This has jump-starting a new field of medicine called bio-electronics.
Last year, GlaxoSmithKline Plc and Google parent Alphabet Inc unveiled a joint company aimed at marketing bio-electronic devices to fight illness by attaching to individual nerves.
U.S. biotech firms Setpoint Medical and EnteroMedics Inc have already demonstrated some early progress of bio-electronics in treating rheumatoid arthritis and suppressing appetite in the obese.
Other companies exploring the technology include Medtronic Plc, Proteus Digital Technology, Sanofi SA and Biogen Inc.
GUM DISEASE: A WARNING SIGN?
Gum disease could be an early warning sign of type 2 diabetes, a study suggests.
Experts said dentists who discovered patients with severe gum problems should screen them for the condition.
A study of 313 middle-aged people by the University of Amsterdam found patients with severe gum disease were 23 per cent more likely to have type 2 diabetes, and 47 per cent more likely to have pre-diabetes than those with no gum disease.
Writing in the journal BMJ Open Diabetes Research And Care, they said this was because people with diabetes were more susceptible to infections and impaired wound healing.
The researchers said it would be feasible to screen for undiagnosed diabetes in dental practices, focusing on people with the most severe form of gum disease.
Picking up on diabetes and pre-diabetes early is essential in helping to avoid complications.
Some 3.5million people have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes – but more than 500,000 are living with the condition unknowingly.