What happened to the GlucoWatch Biographer?
It almost sounds too good to be true: A device nearly identical to a Timex that promises to give constant, accurate readings of blood sugar levels without a pin prick or actually drawing blood. As it turns out, it was too good to be true. The GlucoWatch didn't quite live up to doctors' and consumers' expectations. Promises of a new, revolutionary way to continuously monitor blood sugar levels fell short.
GlucoWatch: An Overview
The first-generation GlucoWatch Biographer was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2001. According to FDA approval information, the device was described as a wrist-watch like glucose monitoring system that took readings through the skin every 20 minutes for up to 12 hours at a time and is used to track trends in glucose levels over time. The device also had an integrated alarm feature, which would sound when the patient's blood sugar readings were too high or too low.
What went wrong with the GlucoWatch?
Using the GlucoWatch was a somewhat arduous project for some patients. The device required a three-hour warm up period and had to be calibrated with a finger stick measurement. Many users were dismayed because using the device still required frequent pin pricks.
After calibration, the GlucoWatch then sent a low-level electrical current through a users' body which pulled fluid through the skin. Electrodes in the device then monitored blood sugar levels. Some patients found this process very uncomfortable, even painful. Many reported skin irritation.
A randomized study from researchers at the University College of London pointed out further shortcomings with the GlucoWatch device. Their results were published in the May 2009 edition of the journal Diabetic Medicine. Though only 6 percent were unable to tolerate wearing the device, participants noted inaccuracies in their readings on the GlucoWatch G2 Biographer. Another clinical study from the Stanford School of Medicine found that the GlucoWatch frequently triggered false alarms, erroneously telling users their blood sugar was two high. Out of 20 alarms sounded, only 10 cases actually correctly assessed a too-high reading, the other 10 were false positives.
Now GlucoWatch has vanished from the diabetes care scene and its manufacturer has stopped any further development.
Safe bets in blood sugar monitoring
Do most people with diabetes really need constant monitoring of their blood sugar levels anyway? Information from the Mayo Clinic asserts that some doctors recommend that patients with type 2 diabetes who use insulin test their blood sugar levels three times daily. Patients who control their condition with a healthy lifestyle or other medications might need to test less.
Patients can also talk to their doctors to help them determine the best monitor for them: Some devices on the market are larger and very simple to use, while more compact devices are more portable but are more tedious to operate.
One thing patients can learn from the GlucoWatch failure is that if a device sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
FDA, "GlucoWatch Automatic Glucose Biographer"
US National Library of Medicine, LM Gandrud, "Use of the Cygnus Glucowatch Biographer at a Diabetes Camp"