Needles aren’t fun, and Google may be banking on the fact most people would pay good money to avoid them.
The technology giant has filed a patent for a blood draw system that doesn’t depend on needles. Users could choose between something that could be worn, such as a smartwatch, or a small device held in the hand or against other parts of the body.
How It Probably Works
Exact information on the device’s technique has not yet been revealed, but the patent application revealed clues to how it might work.
As opposed to current minimally invasive systems in which a lancet is used to prick the skin, the proposed needle-free device holds microparticles in a barrel that can be accelerated by high pressure gas.
When the valve is triggered, the surge of pressurized gas forces the microparticles into the skin and a small quantity of blood emerges. It is then suctioned back into the empty barrel. Because the skin puncture is so small, it would hurt less — if at all.
Right now, it’s just an idea, and Google isn’t talking about specifics.
“We hold patents on a variety of ideas — some of those ideas later mature into real products or services, some don’t. Prospective product announcements should not necessarily be inferred from our patents,” Google said in a statement.
Google’s life sciences research and development unit, renamed Verily earlier this month, is surging ahead with other tantalizing medical technologies. Verily will join forces with diabetes management device-maker Dexcom to create the next generation of continuous glucose monitors (CGM), which will be smaller and cheaper than what is on the market now, according to a joint announcement.
Excitement Over New Device
It’s the Dexcom name in association with Google that most excites David Marrero, Ph.D., president of health care and education for the American Diabetes Association. The Indianapolis-based teacher, who has type 1 diabetes, describes himself as “a guy who tests these products all the time.”
While he stressed the importance of glucose testing for diabetics, the real question, he added, is whether this proposed device is any better than what’s out there now.
“There is a device that plugs into my iPhone. It’s a tiny little thing, about half the size of ball point pen. It’s a sophisticated app,” Marrero told Healthline. “But it’s not big in the market because you still have to prick your finger and carry supplies.”
The CGM is less than an inch square, and the data can be read on a cell phone. It requires regular calibration.
Even though he uses the current Dexcom device frequently, “It’s not 100 percent accurate,” Marrero said. “When the device is confused, it will prompt you to do finger sticks.”
Ground Breaking Devices
Google and Dexcom have some history together. Last summer the two partnered to develop a device that resembles a dime-sized adhesive bandage for glucose monitoring. That product is also inexpensive and disposable.
Many attempts have been made to build a non-invasive technology and all have been limited by their cost or an inability to adapt to all users, Marrero said. The ones that do work on a limited basis require excessive calibration.
Lots of people have their blood drawn for medical purposes, not just diabetics so that makes the potential market huge. Marrero said a device that was non-invasive, minimally calibrated and held the ability to show not just the current number, but whether it’s going up or down, would be a game changer.
“That would be the holy grail,” Marrero said. “Google is a big company. This could be very cool.”
If it’s developed, the technology could work seamlessly with mobile devices and the cloud. The blood sample could be analyzed by the wearable device itself. It could also be reflected instantly on the wearable device or on the user’s smartphone or tablet. The data would also be available to a healthcare provider.
Verily is working on other life sciences projects that would serve diabetics as well. They include a smart contact lenses (in partnership with the Swiss drug maker Novartis) and a cloud-connected sensor for monitoring glucose levels.
According to Verily’s website, its mission is “to bring together technology and life sciences to uncover new truths about health and disease.”
That mission includes the research team’s multi-year project, known as the Baseline study, which will try to identify traits associated with a healthy person and the changes that take place as people age and develop diseases.