Diabetic alert dogs are lifesavers for many people with diabetes. They detect when their owners’ blood sugar levels are too high or too low using the scent of organic compounds they give off, and they let them know about the issue before symptoms arise. This way, people with diabetes have the best possible chance at successfully treating themselves and getting back to full health quickly, before a serious medical emergency occurs.
However, diabetic alert dogs are not available for all people with diabetes. These pups generally cost several thousand dollars, and they take a long time to train, meaning there is often a long waitlist to get one. Other people are allergic to dogs or don’t lead the kind of lifestyle that allows them to bring their dog with them wherever they go. It’s simply not possible for every person with diabetes to get one of these lifesaving dogs.
Luckily, researchers have made some advances in medical technology that allows humans to find out when they have low or high blood sugar without the help of a dog. There are standard finger-prick glucose meters, of course, as well as continuous glucose monitors. But those devices do mess up sometimes, leading some people with diabetes, particularly those who have a hard time controlling their condition, to desire a backup option to keep themselves safe.
That’s where AerBetic comes in. Its designers came up with an idea for a type of technology that can detect organic compounds in the air at a parts-per-billion level, just like a diabetic alert dog would be able to do. Then they integrated that technology, called a proprietary gas sensor, into a device that can be worn on the wrist like an Apple watch.
Until a hypoglycemic event occurs, there is no reason for the user to have to interact with their wearable—it’s a set-it-and-forget-it type of system, which removes some of the possibility for human error. The device detects impending hypoglycemic attacks and alerts the wearer via their cell phone to the issue so that they can take action before symptoms set in. Hypoglycemia symptoms can include confusion and even loss of consciousness, making it imperative that the person seeks treatment right away.
If the wearer does not have their cell phone with them, the watch will still vibrate and display visual cues to let the wearer know that their blood sugar is dropping, making it a very effective backup for glucose meters. The device also continues to learn over time from data input so that it will keep getting better and better at its job.
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“Over time, we’ll be able to apply machine learning to the manual inputs and the readings from the sensor data to make the sensors not only smarter but also more finely-tuned to each individual patient,” says co-founder Eric Housh.
In the near future, AerBetic also plans to expand its range of products so that people who can’t wear watches (or don’t like to) have the option of a different type of sensor, such as a clothing clip or one that sits on a nightstand to protect against nighttime blood sugar drops.
“The diabetic community has really embraced what we’re doing,” says Housh.
After marketing their product in the U.S., Canada, and Japan, the company will branch out and partner with retailers and distributors in other parts of the world to make sure everyone has access to this potentially lifesaving device.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?