Some areas of wearable technology have struggled to find a purpose.
The clearest is the smartwatch, still routinely used for little more than fitness tracking and phone notifications.
Movano is working on one of the more life-changing uses for wearables, completely non-invasive glucose monitoring for people with diabetes.
The company recently picked up an additional $10 million in funding, and plans to have a working prototype by the end of 2021.
Movano’s specific hook is not just that it requires no fingerpick or cannula to acquire a reading, but it comes in the form of a watch.
Currently only rendered images of the device are available. However, these clearly show Movano wants this to be a watch you might wear all the time.
The strap looks much like the stainless steel Milanese Loop of an Apple Watch. Its appearance is far removed from an in-development rival like GlucoWise, which looks much more like a finger prick device.
You will simply wear the watch, and can then track your blood glucose through the day on your wrist, or in an app on your phone.
There would be no more uncomfortable finger-prick tests, no more regular replacement of monitoring patches on your arm.
The most important question: how does it work?
Wearable tech’s most headline-grabbing solution for glucose monitoring is the smart contact lens, which uses the glucose levels in your tear fluid to estimate blood glucose.
Google worked on one of these with Novartis until late 2018, when the project was canned as the results were not close enough to those of blood glucose.
Movano’s approach has less of a sci-fi air, but is no less reliant on technology. It uses low-energy RF radio waves to detect changes in blood glucose, removing the need for the tiny tube (cannula) used in currently available continuous glucose monitoring systems.
“Glucose has specific electrical and physical properties that can be detected by RF energy, " says Movano founder and CEO Michael Leabman.
"When you look at water with oil in it, you can visibly see the oil on the water because light bends and reflects differently in oil and water. Similar effects happen with glucose in your blood vessel and can be measured by RF.”
Several small scale studies have explored the viability of this kind of RF monitoring. A paper published in the Journal of Infrared, Millimeter, and Terahertz Waves in 2018 saw successful identification of a spike in a pig given a glucose injection, for example, using 58–62 GHz waves.
Each of these experiments uses a different frequency band to analyse glucose changes. But indications are, at the very least, promising.
Making the concept real
The challenge now is to bring this tech down to a scale that will turn Movano’s concept images into a reality.
“At this stage, our current focus is shrinking our technology to ensure it’s low power enough and sized right to fit into a wearable. In tandem, we’re optimizing our algorithms so that we can get accurate readings on people of all ages, body types and ethnicities in order to get FDA clearance,” says Leabman.
Movano has quite the task ahead, as a relatively small start-up with $27 million funding to date.
However, Leabman’s experience is rooted in the technical, rather than medical, side.
“Over the past 20+ years, I have built four businesses, along with some key members of Movano’s engineering team, that have employed various RF solutions to tackle large scale problems elegantly and efficiently,” says Leabman.
“Our initial vision when we started the company about 2.5 years ago was to create a platform that could be used for a variety of different health applications, including tracking sensors around the home and monitoring vitals from the human body.
"When we realized how encouraging our first results from measuring glucose were, as well as how pervasive diabetes is, we decided to focus on developing our CGM so we could make the most impact and improve the lives of millions of people with diabetes and prediabetes.”
An estimated 9.4% of US adults have diabetes, and 33.9% have prediabetes, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
Movano hopes to have a functioning prototype that can be used for FDA trials by the end of 2021.