Israeli startup uses big data, minimal hardware to treat diabetes

GlucoMe aims to streamline treatment for diabetics to improve individual care and provide relief to overburdened system

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

GlucoMe's app provides users with analytics and treatment plans. (Courtesy)
GlucoMe's app provides users with analytics and treatment plans. (Courtesy)

The Israeli startup GlucoMe aims to use cloud-based data analysis and stripped down medical hardware to better address the global diabetes epidemic. The company’s “Digital Diabetes Clinic” can be used to recommend treatment programs for individuals as well as manage larger diabetic populations.

One in 11 adults globally suffers from diabetes, a metabolic disease in which patients record high sugar levels for prolonged periods of time. In 2012, 29.1 million people in the US had diabetes, or 9.3 percent of the population, according to the American Diabetes Association. The disease was the seventh leading cause of death in the US in 2010, and about 1.4 million Americans are diagnosed each year.

The disease is becoming more widespread, but there are a limited number of health care professionals available to treat them, said GlucoMe’s co-founder and CEO Yiftah Ben Aharon. Diabetics only get an average of about 10 minutes of face-to-face time with their doctors every three months, according to the company.

“You need to somehow manage the population and prioritize them, so the right patients get the right treatment. This isn’t the current model,” Ben Aharon said.

Ben Aharon launched GlucoMe with Israeli entrepreneur Dov Moran in 2013 to help deal with this growing gap. The company’s platform uses a smart glucose monitor, an insulin pen monitor, a mobile app and a cloud-based management system to streamline treatment.

Yiftah Ben Aharon, co-founder and CEO of GlucoMe. (Courtesy)
Yiftah Ben Aharon, co-founder and CEO of GlucoMe. (Courtesy)

“We wanted to build connected glucose monitors so we could digitally log the results to the computer and the cloud and analyze the data,” said Ben Aharon, who worked for Moran’s mobile phone company Modu after serving in the IDF’s elite 8200 intelligence unit.

There were connected glucose monitors on the market already, Ben Aharon said, but they were expensive, and insurance companies would not pay for pricier equipment. There were also interface problems; some devices could only connect to certain iPhones, for example.

The company, headquartered outside Tel Aviv, developed a bare-bones glucose monitor stripped of everything inessential to keep costs down. The device has no display, on/off button, bluetooth, wifi or cellular connectivity.

The monitor uses a lancing device to take a blood measurement, makes an analysis, then communicates with the user’s smartphone using an acoustic data transfer system patented by the company. The monitor sends the information to the phone by emitting a beeping noise, which the smartphone receives through its microphone and separates from background noise using signal processing. The phone reads data in the tone’s audio waves, similar to he way apps like Shazam do.

All phones have microphones, so there are no interface problems, and the data transfer does not rely on wifi or cellular data. Users only need the GlucoMe app, which works with iOS and Android, open on their phone to process the information.

The system relays the information to the patient’s health care provider or specialist, along with suggested treatment.

“We won’t just tell you this patient is in a high glucose condition or a low glucose condition,” Ben Aharon said. “It will analyze the data and recommend a full treatment plan.”

The physician can check the plan and make any changes, then send it to the patient, who can download it onto their phone. The user won’t need to remember anything, such as when to take an insulin shot or when to see their physician.

A screenshot of GlucoMe's app. (Courtesy)
A screenshot of GlucoMe’s app. (Courtesy)

The company’s insulin monitor fits on top of the patient’s existing insulin pen to measure compliance with the treatment plan. When the user makes an injection, the insulin monitor measures and records it, and will notify the patient if they are not following their prescribed plan. If problems persist, the patient’s caregiver, such as a specific nurse, will be notified.

The company’s hardware is only an enabler for data collection, though, Ben Aharon said.

“Once you collect the data, then the magic begins,” he said.

Their open system can collect information from other sources as well, with the goal of collecting as much data as possible.

The company can use its cloud-based system to analyze the data and better manage diabetic populations, which could be patients receiving treatment at a single clinic, for example, or everyone with the disease in a specific region. The data can be analyzed by algorithms and machine learning and shared with health care providers to determine which patients need more attention. Some patients will suffice with only digital intervention, like small changes to their medication plans, but others will need to physically visit their clinic more often. The end goal is a more efficient system for health care providers and improved treatment for individuals.

GlucoMe has completed trials in the US, Germany and Israel, received approval for use in Europe in August and expects FDA clearance this year.

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