Google’s Nanoparticular Ambition
Tech firm’s latest project aims to detect disease using a nanoparticle pill and a wrist-worn device
The Google[x] life sciences division is innovating again. This time with nanoparticles. No less ambitious than other projects preceding it (such as its plan to build the largest and most detailed human genome database: Click Here), the tech giant’s latest undertaking aims to create nanoparticles capable of reporting signs of cancer and other diseases using a wearable, magnetic device.
Speaking at the Wall Street Journal Global Technology Conference (1), project leader, Andrew Conrad, said “Essentially, the idea is simple: You swallow a pill with nanoparticles, and they’re decorated with antibodies, or molecules that detect other molecules. They course through your body and because the core of these particles are magnetic, you can call them somewhere. These little particles go and mingle with the people, we call them back to one place, and we ask them, ‘Hey, what did you see?’” This is certainly an oversimplified way of explaining it, and although magnetic nanoparticle diagnostics are not a new concept, making it work is far from simple.
According to Conrad, a wearable sensor containing a magnet would be used to attract and analyze the particles. As well as detecting cancer, it’s hoped the system could be used to spot other disease signs, such as fatty plaque in blood vessels and high potassium levels – potentially creating opportunities for clinicians and pathologists to monitor patients and spot disease before symptoms develop.
That’s certainly ambitious; with many technological and regulatory challenges to overcome, industry experts give the project at least five years before they expect any meaningful results. There is a social factor to consider too: Google’s detractors already point to many of their data collection practices as an invasion of privacy, and there could also be concern over how Google might collect and use private medical data.
Despite possible privacy concerns, a system that continually monitors for signs of disease could provide a wealth of information for healthcare providers. According to Conrad, the system is part of a paradigm shift that would see medicine become much more proactive. “Every test you ever go to the doctor for will be done through this system,” he said, “that is our dream.”
- The Wall Street Journal, “Google’s newest search: cancer cells”, (2014). Available at: on.wsj.com/1sO7sQv. Accessed 9 March 2015.
I have an extensive academic background in the life sciences, having studied forensic biology and human medical genetics in my time at Strathclyde and Glasgow Universities. My research, data presentation and bioinformatics skills plus my ‘wet lab’ experience have been a superb grounding for my role as an Associate Editor at Texere Publishing. The job allows me to utilize my hard-learned academic skills and experience in my current position within an exciting and contemporary publishing company.