How technology is transforming diabetes care
Technology innovations are accelerating rapidly in many sectors. But perhaps the most meaningful impact is in the health sector, where tech advancements genuinely change people’s lives.
The wearable health tech market is booming and is predicted to be among the largest and fastest-growing markets of the next decade. The demand for wearable electronic devices that can measure things like temperature, breathing rate, blood pressure, and sound — proves that consumers are looking for more ways to monitor their health using technology that’s literally by their side.
In this article, we’re placing the technology spotlight on diabetes — a condition that affects 422 million people worldwide and costs the health sector hundreds of billions. There are multiple types of diabetes, including type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. In recent years there has been an alarming rise in the number of people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Various factors influence the risk of developing type 2, including being less active, obesity, family history, and age.
Managing blood glucose levels has always been a significant challenge facing people with diabetes. Still, for many years, technology improvements have primarily been focused on making blood glucose testing more comfortable, rather than manageable. Fortunately, technology is finally starting to have a measurable impact on diabetes management — which is crucial to avoid the long-term complications associated with high blood glucose over time.
The rise of continuous glucose monitors
Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) allow people with diabetes to track their glucose levels 24/7 and reduce the number of times they need to test their blood sugar using traditional finger pricks. As well as alleviating the pain and inconvenience that often results from finger prick testing, people with diabetes can gain valuable insights into their blood glucose trends. By analyzing the results with their healthcare providers, changes can be made to food intake, exercise, and medications to improve glucose control and, specifically, time in range.
Advancements and the availability of CGMs and flash glucose monitors have been making waves in recent years, but the introduction of these devices started further back in time.
In 1999, Minimed marketed the very first CGM: a significant milestone that would pave the way for future systems, enhancements, and technologies. At that time, the device was limited in features and wasn’t designed to be used in real-time, meaning blood glucose trends could only be analyzed following therapy. Additionally, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated that patients had to continue using regular finger-prick tests.
In the past couple of decades, CGMs have come a long way. Many now offer patients a constant stream of real-time information about their glucose levels — easily viewable from a smartphone. This allows timely awareness of blood glucose levels and makes insulin management much simpler.
The current state of CGM technology
Right now there are two major manufacturers of CGMs for the consumer market. Dexcom, one of the first and best-known companies to specialize in CGMs, continues to innovate. Their latest device, the Dexcom G6, benefits from a one-touch applicator that easily inserts a tiny sensor just beneath the skin, with a 10-day water-resistant wear sensor that sets a global standard for integrating with other leading diabetes technologies.
Abbott Laboratories offers another version of this technology. Their device, known as the Freestyle Libre 3, has the world’s smallest and thinnest sensor. It includes optional glucose alarms to warn diabetics of hypoglycemia (low blood glucose), and with the latest iteration, users no longer need to scan their sensors to determine their blood glucose levels.
Although a huge step forward, current CGMs require the patient to change the sensor frequently. The Freestyle Libre currently lasts 14 days, with the Dexcom G7 lasting ten days.
Despite the enormous leaps in CGM technology over recent years, some patients experience various problems with current models, such as uncomfortable insertions, adhesive issues, sensors falling off, and inaccurate readings.
Implantable CGMs are an emerging diabetes technology that offers some significant advantages over similar products. Leading the way with the first FDA-approved implantable CGM is Eversense. As the name suggests, instead of the sensor being placed on the skin, the Eversense sensor is implanted comfortably under the skin in the upper arm for six months at a time—a common interval for diabetics to visit their endocrinologists.
CGMs for non-diabetics
Right now, the vast majority of CGM devices are designed to be used by people with diabetes. However, there is increasing research, demand, and development for other health and lifestyle uses. Abbott Libre Sense Glucose Sport Monitor, for example, provides athletes with continuous insight into their glucose levels. They can then use this valuable data to correlate glucose with their performance. Researchers are investigating the use of CGMs to assist with other health issues, including weight loss, insulin resistance, and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), among others.
What’s the future of CGMs?
One of the most promising developments in diabetes tech is the development of an artificial pancreas, which can automate background insulin (also known as basal insulin). A CGM plays a pivotal role in creating an artificial pancreas, which combined with an insulin pump creates a closed-loop system. Omnipod 5, for example, is the first and only tubeless, automated insulin delivery system to integrate with Dexcom G6 CGM.
As continuous glucose monitoring becomes the standard care for diabetes management, people with diabetes can expect further enhancements to CGM technology, including improved accuracy, smaller sensors, and more advanced features. Increased availability and awareness are also attracting other use cases, such as athletes who want to correlate glucose to performance and those who wish to improve their health and lifestyle.
With CGM technology and innovation showing no signs of slowing down, it’s clear that CGMs are transforming diabetes care and the broader wearable health tech market.