Search engine giant lends its R&D prowess to tackle health problems including cancer and heart attacks
Google continues to move beyond its search engine heritage, with the news it is working on technology to help in the early detection of cancers, heart attacks and strokes.
The move is Google’s latest attempt to increase its health tech presence.
The research is being carried out by Google’s X Team, the secret research and development division within Google, and was revealed on Tuesday at the Wall Street Journal Digital conference in Southern California.
At the conference, Google said it was seeking to detect many serious human illnesses at a much earlier stage. Indeed, the search engine giant is reportedly designing tiny magnetic particles to patrol the bloodstream within the human body for signs of cancer, looming heart attacks and other diseases.
The health effort was revealed by Andrew Conrad, the head of life sciences inside the Google X research lab.
Conrad said that Google is designing nanoparticles (roughly one billionth of a metre in width) that are made up of a magnetic material with antibodies or proteins that will detect or attach to other molecules inside the body.
Essentially, the nanoparticles will be contained within a pill, which once swallowed, will enter the bloodstream and “sniff out” the dangerous chemical signals given off by cells as they become diseased. Indeed, it will act in a similar way to medical detection dogs that are trained to “sniff out” certain forms of cancer.
Unlike the dogs however, the nanoparticles will attach themselves to the problem cells, proteins, or molecules within the patient to pinpoint the problem area. Google is also reportedly working on a wearable device that will act as a monitoring tool. It will reportedly contain a magnet to attract and count the particles.
“Every test you ever go to the doctor for will be done through this system,” Dr Andrew Conrad, head of the Life Sciences team at the Google X research lab, was quoted as saying by the Wall Street Journal. “That is our dream.”
It should be pointed out that Google does face some steep challenges with the project, as it still needs to develop a coating that will help the particles bind to specific cells. It will also face formidable regulatory hurdles from medical authorities, and possibly even privacy concerns if Google begins collecting patent data.
Dr. Conrad reportedly said Google won’t collect or store medical data itself, but would license the technology to others who will handle the information and its security.
Despite these challenges, Google is not dissuaded from medical research.
Indeed, in January this year Google revealed it had developed special contact lenses equipped with miniaturised sensors to analyse the tears in the eyes of diabetes patients, in order to determine when their blood sugar levels need to be adjusted.
Then in July it announced that it had teamed up with Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis to develop these ‘smart’ contact lenses to help people with diabetes track their blood glucose levels.
The Google X project has also been looking at a number of other developments for a while now, which includes self-driving cars, high-altitude balloons to deliver Internet, and of course Google Glass, which uses bone conducting technology to deliver sound.
In August Google revealed it was developing its own fleet of airborne drones, in a scheme it calls ‘Project Wing’. The idea is to develop a drone capable of home deliveries, similar to the way in which Amazon is looking to utilise drone technology.
Are you a Google expert? Take our quiz!