A Cancer Sensor from Google?
Google is working on new technology that could potentially diagnose health problems like cancer or heart attacks at a much earlier stage than is currently possible.
As with treatment of many diseases, early diagnosis is key. Unfortunately, many can only be detected when they have already passed the treatable stage and have become fatal.
But there are clearly noticeable differences between cancerous cells and healthy ones, and Google wanted to tap into that to see if it could be used as a sort of early warning system.
The company’s research division, Google X, which investigates potentially revolutionary innovations, may have come up with a workable concept. This would involve combining a special pill and a sensor worn on the body that could alert the wearer of possible malignant cells.
The pill would contain nanoparticles that would enter the bloodstream when swallowed, and different nanoparticles could be tailored for different conditions. For example, the microscopic particles could be designed to stick to cancerous cells, or find evidence of heart attack-causing fatty plaques breaking from the lining of blood vessels.
So, the patient swallows the pill containing nanoparticles, which then travel through the body looking for identifying cells.
“What we are trying to do is change medicine from reactive and transactional to proactive and preventative,” explained molecular biologist Dr Andrew Conrad, head of life sciences for Google X. “Nanoparticles give you the ability to explore the body at a molecular and cellular level.”
The team has also been exploring ways of using magnetism with these nanoparticles. This means that the particles could be controlled – to an extent – and temporarily concentrated in a single area. Using this method, they could be called back to the wrist to report their findings to a sensory device worn on that part of the body.
Google X’s ultimate ambition is to create a wristband that would be able to take nanoparticle readings through light or radio waves at least once a day.
But Dr Conrad stressed that these devices would not be given out or sold on a commercial scale as consumer devices, and Google has no intention of monetising the technology. In fact, apparently the only reason that the project has been made public knowledge now is because the company is looking to establish partnerships. These partners could then take the tech to doctors and patients.
And anyone worried that Google would use the information gathered from the sensors to create a sort of person-based health database can stay rest assured that this is not the intention at all.
“[The devices] are prescriptive medical devices,” Dr Conrad explained, “and you know that doctor-patient relationships are pretty privileged and would not involve Google in any way.”