Diabetics must constantly prick their fingers with needles to measure their blood sugar levels. And diabetes is not the only condition that requires frequent blood draws, which are never fun for patients. Clearly we need an easier and less painful way to track real-time chemistry inside our bodies.
While we’re waiting for someone to create a Star Trek-style tricorder, Graphwear, a startup at QB3@953, is developing a wearable sensor that can continually measure levels of sugar and other compounds by analyzing tiny quantities of sweat, a bodily fluid that nobody could possibly object to providing.
Graphwear’s co-founders, Rajatesh Gudibande and Saurabh Radhakrishnan, met while studying at the University of Pennsylvania. Both had life experiences that made them question the efficiency and availability of standard diagnostics, and motivated them to develop better technology.
Rajatesh attended university in Rajam, India’s least developed region. During his studies, he contracted malaria. Doctors said he likely had chickenpox, but ordered tests just in case. The closest diagnostic labs were three hours away, and it took over a week to receive results. Rajatesh nearly died. He saw there was a real problem: While there were good doctors, they did not have the proper tools or facilities to accurately diagnose patients.
Saurabh had a different problem. He suffers from chronic migraines, which are often caused by insufficient hydration—and can be prevented if the patient stays hydrated. Also, his father is diabetic. Both issues inspired him to search for a more efficient solution to diagnostics.
While graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania, Rajatesh and Saurabh shared their stories and began work on a device that could non-invasively provide more accurate and efficient diagnostics for major medical issues. They named their device “Sweat Smart” because it analyzes the chemical composition of sweat. The key to the technology is graphene, a single atomic layer of carbon that is stronger than steel and more conductive than copper. Currently, the device can continually measure glucose and osmolality levels.
Penn was a good launchpad, but Rajatesh and Saurabh realized that if they wanted to build a strong startup, they needed to be in the right environment. Saurabh had lived in Palo Alto for part of his life, and knew that the Bay Area had been the cradle of biotech and had a unique spirit and special resources for entrepreneurs. In February of 2017, the two moved Graphwear to QB3@953, where they have since developed their device and expanded their team.
To test their technology, Graphwear has partnered with several Bay Area professional sports teams who want to get in-depth readings and analytics of their athletes. Saurabh and Rajatesh won’t say who these teams are, but successful trials in the major leagues would provide some high-octane marketing fuel. Such credibility would help Graphwear reach its founders’ ultimate goal: to provide patients with conditions such as diabetes and migraines a way to monitor their biomarkers in real time and get control over their health.
By Sean Innella, Timelapse, and Kaspar Mossman, QB3