Scouring the Internet for information has always been Google’s core competency. Now, the search giant is pointing its algorithms at a new target: your body. The company is developing a pill covered in nanoparticles that, when ingested, will search the body for illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.
The potential invention is the latest from Google X, the company’s advanced projects division responsible for Google Glass and Project Loon, a system for delivering Internet connectivity through a network of balloons. The company said it plans to license the technology to other companies rather than commercialize the tech itself, and it would not manage any of the information collected by the nanoparticles.
Tricorder in a Pill
Andrew Conrad, head of Google X’s Life Sciences Team, described the idea behind the pill as similar to sending thousands of doctors to a city to monitor the health of individuals, whereas current techniques are more akin to having a single doctor diagnose people from a ten thousand foot vantage point.
Conrad told Medium that Google X is aiming to build a real version of the Tricorder, a handheld scanning device that was featured in Star Trek. The medical version of the fictional Tricorder was used by doctors to help diagnose diseases and collect bodily information about a patient.
The pill, which Google is calling the “nanoparticle platform," would be coated in a variety of molecules and antibodies that could detect the presence of other kinds of molecules, and transmit information to a central system. The nanoparticles would also be magnetized, allowing them to be directed to specific parts of the body through the use of magnets that could be worn or placed on the patient. Each particle would be less than .01 percent the size of a red blood cell, allowing them to bind to cells, proteins and other molecules in the body.
The nanoparticle platform is Google X’s latest foray into medical science. Google X’s Life Sciences Team also recently unveiled a contact lens with an embedded microchip that can be worn by diabetics to monitor glucose levels, in place of the traditional finger-prick blood test.
Conrad described the nanoparticle research, which it reported at the Wall Street Journals' WSJD Live conference on Tuesday, as promising but early stage. Conrad said he expects the technology to take several years at least to come to the market.
Beating Disease to the Punch
Nonetheless, the technology could revolutionize certain areas of medical treatment, such as heart disease, by providing early detection of arterial plaques on the verge of rupturing prior to a heart attack or stroke. The nanoparticles could also bind to cancer cells, allowing doctors to track a tumor’s response to chemotherapy treatment in real time. A wearable device, such as a smart watch, could then display information relayed by the nanoparticles.
To work, however, the nanoparticle platform will need to know which data constitute acceptable parameters for a healthy individual, and which should be cause for concern. Google has already unveiled its “Baseline Study” in July, seeking to do exactly that by gathering enough data from healthy individuals to establish baseline parameters for good health.
In theory, the nanoparticle platform could compare data collected from an individual against the information contained in the Baseline Study. That would allow the platform to make treatment recommendations based on even small deviations from the baseline, giving medical professionals the ability to treat disease preemptively, before major symptoms have developed.
Posted: 2014-10-30 @ 12:41am PT
It's easy to say your will create something like this, much harder to put into effect.
Posted: 2014-10-29 @ 7:19pm PT
Great to know that they take their opportunities to change the world for the better seriously, thanks Google.