February 25, 2024

June Wan/ZDNET

Samsung just announced a new lineup of smartphones and teased a Galaxy Ring last week and is now turning its focus towards its next big health breakthroughs. The company is investing heavily to add groundbreaking features to its wearable devices, including more accurate blood pressure monitoring and a way for users to track their blood sugar without the need for finger-pricking. 

“If we can do continuous blood pressure and glucose, we’re in a whole different ballgame,” Samsung’s mobile digital health chief, Hon Pak, said during a recent interview. “I think that’s where everyone is trying to get to. We’re putting significant investment toward that.”

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Health tracking has become a key feature in smartphones and wearable devices like smartwatches and smart rings. The Galaxy Watch already measures its wearer’s blood pressure, but it requires calibration with a blood pressure cuff during initial setup and periodical recalibration after that. Neither Apple nor Samsung has been able to add blood glucose sensors to their wearables — but the race is on.

These technologies take time to develop; Samsung has been working on these goals for years, publishing research in 2020 where it discussed the development of a non-invasive blood sugar monitoring method in collaboration with MIT. Apple has reportedly been researching noninvasive and continuous blood glucose monitoring since at least 2010. 

It’s not clear what Samsung’s current research entails, but its 2020 study made strides into using an off-axis Raman spectroscopy system, a technique that observes the vibrations of molecules involving a laser-based sensor that can detect the presence and concentration of glucose through the skin.

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The biggest roadblock for Samsung and Apple is accuracy. These methods are not as accurate as measuring blood sugar directly from the bloodstream, so until these companies can deliver on their promise of accuracy, we won’t see a Galaxy Ring or Watch or Apple Watch with a blood sugar monitor. 

“We are looking at everything from miniaturization to the various different technology platforms that can do some type of glucose monitoring or anything in between,” Pak said, adding that he hopes noninvasive glucose monitoring reaches the market within five years.

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While research is promising, there are currently no fully noninvasive blood glucose monitoring devices commercially available in the mainstream US market. Some blood sugar monitor manufacturers offer continuous glucose monitors (CGM) that require a single prick for insertion and require replacement every 10-14 days. A noninvasive method would allow the over 38 million diabetics in the US a pain-free alternative to measuring their blood glucose continuously, no matter where they are.

Samsung is also working on improving its blood pressure monitoring to go longer without needing calibration with a blood pressure cuff. Apple is planning to add blood pressure monitoring to the Apple Watch later this year, according to Bloomberg.

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“Whether it’s Apple or others, I think we are trying to redefine blood pressure in a way that it was originally intended, which is: How much cardiovascular risk do you have?” Pak said in his interview. 

With hopes to extend the reach of Samsung Health and provide users with better insight, the company is planning to launch the Galaxy Ring before the end of the year and is researching different sensors in both its earbuds and even a mixed reality headset.