Biomedical Research

Treating Diabetes with a Smartwatch

Smartwatches like the Fitbit are not an unordinary sight, but what if it was used to treat diabetes as well? Find out how a research team in Switzerland accomplished this here!

By Kyle Phong

Published 1:22 PM EST, Sunday Aug. 8th, 2021


It has been estimated that over 34 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes.  An ambitious research team in ETH Zurich, Switzerland, noted the rise in fitness trackers’ popularity and created a new treatment of diabetes by utilizing the green light from an everyday smartwatch.


Fitness trackers like the Apple Watch shown below emit a non-invasive green light-emitting diodes (LED) light that goes through our skin to measure our heart rate, sleep cycle, and blood pressure.  

Exist, “How do fitness trackers measure your heart rate?”

Dr. Fussenegger, the leader of the research team, developed a molecular system named “Glow Control” within human cells that can be activated by the green light from a smartwatch. They experimented with HEK293 (Human Embryonic Kidney) cells, which are commonly used in laboratories around the world. In order to test their hypothesis, the researchers implanted HEK293 cells into pork rinds and mice as shown in Figures A and C below.  Then, they used the green LED light from Apple Watches to activate these cells and produce human Glucagon-Like Peptide 1 (hGLP-1), which is responsible for the production of insulin.  Many medications today mimic the effects of this peptide to control glucose levels in patients with Type-2 diabetes.  

Nature Communications, “Fig. 5: Smart-watch-mediated transgene expression in vitro and in vivo”

The Type-2 diabetic mice displayed increased levels of hGLP-1 and lower levels of glucose compared to the mice that weren’t exposed to green LED light in the control group. Over a 12-day treatment period, the mice in the experimental group showed reduced body weight gain and insulin resistance.  


The Glow Control system can easily be implemented in our everyday lives. Its reliance on green LED lights from commercially available smartwatches such as the Fitbit or Apple Watch makes it accessible and eliminates the need for patients to purchase a special medical device. Artificial pancreas, one form of treatment for diabetes, is invasive and requires constant glucose monitoring.  In comparison, the Glow Control system is non-invasive and compatible with various smartwatches that can download medical software for monitoring and treatment. Dr. Fussenegger states that the smartwatch still has at least ten more years before it can be used in clinical practice. Multiple clinical phases for this smartwatch ensure that it is a safe, effective, and ethical product for patients to use.  


ScienceDaily, “Controlling insulin production with a smartwatch”, 7 June 2021

Nature, “Smart-watch-programmed green-light-operated percutaneous control of therapeutic transgenes”, 7 June 2021

Exist, “How do fitness trackers measure your heart rate?”, 21 February 2016

Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2020”, 11 February 2016

Hormone Health Network, “Glucagon Like Peptide 1”, May 2019

Kyle Phong, Youth Medical Journal 2021


By Kyle Phong

Kyle Phong is a student at Whitney High School in Cerritos, California. He enjoys learning about the fields of psychology and evolution.

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