Deep in your body, under your skin, are measurable elements of your health that affect your risk of developing some of the most common diseases worldwide. Some of these things, like blood oxygen and sleep quality, can be detected through a traditional wearable or smartwatch. But some of the other useful data people can actually act on to become more healthy has either been restricted to prescription devices or simply hasn’t been available in the US. Think your blood sugar levels.
Improvements in biosensing technology are inching closer to changing the wearable status quo. At CES this year, companies came forward with the latest developments in biosensors, which have been in the works for years but only recently started to shape into something the “average” consumer could benefit from. This includes the one in three US adults in “prediabetes” territory, where blood sugar levels are high but not yet high enough to constitute a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis.
Could biosensors, which dig for and retrieve even more information than what we’re used to, benefit someone in a window of opportunity, where choices made today could turn around or reverse a future health condition? If they’re able to reach more people, possibly.
“People are familiar with wearables, and we see biowearables as the next step in that technology,” said Marc Taub, divisional vice president of technical operations for Abbott’s diabetes care business. The devices can give people “insight into their bodies they never had before,” Taub said during a digital health panel at CES last week.
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What are biosensors?
Biosensors are a wearable you stick to a part of your body, like your arm, to lift health data using a tiny sensor. Continuous glucose monitors, or CGMs, for people with Type 1 diabetes have been the main product.
Two years ago at CES, Abbott announced a consumer line of biosensors called Lingo. Recently, the glucose-monitoring version launched in the UK, and a rollout in the US is expected to follow sometime this year. Down the line, Lingo will be able to measure things like ketones in the blood. The biowearable pairs with a “coaching” app that’s meant to help users connect the dots between their health data.
A two-week Lingo pack costs 89 euros, which includes one sensor that lasts 14 days. An eight-week pack costs 300 euros.
There are other glucose-monitoring companies that provide insight into blood sugar and general wellness for people without diabetes, like January and Nutrisense, but they require a prescription in the US, which you may get via the company itself.
The idea behind sensors like this, when not used for diabetes management, is to provide people with information about how what they eat affects their blood sugar, and potentially how glucose levels reflect daily trends, like how much sleep someone is getting.
Continuous monitoring of glucose levels in people without diabetes has been an emerging health trend, so more research is needed on the usefulness of this data.
Dexcom expands glucose monitoring to Type 2 diabetes
Dexcom this month said that the Stelo, its new continuous glucose monitor for people with Type 2 diabetes who don’t use insulin, has been submitted to the US Food and Drug Administration with expected availability this summer. In the 1 in 10 Americans who have diabetes, Type 2 is the more common type by far, making up more than 90% of diagnoses.
The Stelo will be another option for people with Type 2 diabetes who want immediate insights into how their body is processing blood sugar, based on what they’re doing and what they eat. It may also provide more useful, catered information than the generalized advice people get on managing blood sugar or diabetes at the doctor’s office, Dexcom’s chief operating officer, Jake Leach, explained Jan. 10 during the CES panel.
“They’re told ‘eat less, exercise more,'” Leach explained. “That’s not very helpful.”
There’s no word on price yet for the Stelo without insurance.
Better Type 1 diabetes care at CES 2024
At CES this year, Abbott, Dexcom and Tandem showcased their latest improvements in automated technology that will, hopefully, improve the everyday lives of those with Type 1 diabetes.
Over the summer, Tandem announced its Mobi insulin pump, the world’s smallest FDA-cleared automated insulin delivery system. At CES 2024, the company brought it in for a showcase ahead of its anticipated launch early this year. This hybrid-closed-loop system works with CGMs to continuously administer insulin as needed, directly through an app. Mobi will initially be compatible with the Dexcom G6 sensor, with Dexcom G7 and Abbott’s Freestyle Libre 2 Plus sensor compatibility anticipated to follow.
Abbott and Tandem also just announced a US integration of Abbott’s newest continuous glucose monitor, the FreestyleLibre 2 Plus Sensor, with Tandem’s T:slim X2 insulin pump.
How hydrated are you? (And does a wearable’s ability to tell you matter?)
Also present at CES was Nix, a biosensor marketed toward athletes so they can see how hydrated they are during a workout. While athletes and “biohackers” are seen as some of the early adopters of technology like this, Nix CEO Meridith Cass explained on the biosensor CES panel, they’re really meant for everybody, as hydration is a key component of health that keeps your organs healthy, your mind and digestive system functional, and more.
The Nix biosensor costs $129, which includes four patches.
Will biosensing be useful health tech or a wellness ‘extra’ for those who can afford it?
Even though CGMs and automated insulin delivery systems have been available for a while, their reach has been limited to people with Type 1 diabetes who are either willing to use technology to manage their health and/or those whose insurance can pay for it. While people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes who use CGMs have fewer instances of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and lower AC1 (average blood sugar level) than those who don’t, cost and insurance coverage remain barriers to actually getting one, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Even if biosensors do one day near the mass appeal that wearables like the Fitbit and Apple Watch have been able to achieve, ease of purchase will be one factor to consider, no matter how promising the wellness waters look through a biosensor. But generally speaking, more insight into metabolic health, and how one factor affects another, can improve people’s wellness and reduce risk of chronic disease before it begins.