According to a report by the BBC, Google is developing eHealth technology that combines disease-detecting nanoparticles, which would enter the person’s bloodstream orally, with a wrist-worn sensor to help early detection of cancers, impending heart attacks, strokes and other diseases long before any physical symptoms appear.
This project is Google’s latest shift into the medical sector following their work on glucose-measuring contact lenses for patients with diabetes.
Though still in the early stages, the idea behind the technology is to identify slight changes in the person’s biochemistry to act as an early warning system to diagnose a disease. Early detection is crucial in serious diseases like pancreatic cancer, which is only detected after it becomes untreatable and fatal.
The diagnostic project is being led by molecular biologist, Dr Andrew Conrad, at Google’s research unit, Google X, which is dedicated to investigating potentially revolutionary innovations. “What we are trying to do is change medicine from reactive and transactional to proactive and preventative. Nanoparticles give you the ability to explore the body at a molecular and cellular level,” said Dr Conrad.
Nanoparticles could be tailored to stick to a cancerous cell or a fragment of cancerous DNA, or could find evidence of fatty plaques about to break free from the lining of blood vessels which can cause a heart attack of stroke if it blocks the flow of blood. Another set would constantly monitor chemicals in the blood.
“You can recall those unattached nanoparticles to a single location – because they are magnetic – and that location is the superficial vasculature of the wrist, where you can ask them what they saw,” said Dr Conrad.
Google’s ambition is ultimately to create a wristband that would take readings of the nanoparticles via light and radio waves one or more times a day.
Though Google is currently seeking to establish partnerships, Dr Conrad said: “We are the inventors of the technology but we have no intentions of commercialising it or monetising it in that way. We will license it out and the partners will take it forward to doctors and patients”
“These are not consumer devices. They are prescriptive medical devices, and you know that doctor-patient relationships are pretty privileged and would not involve Google in any way,” continued Dr Conrad.
While the technology holds a lot of potential, Google will have to address concerns around “false positives” when healthy people are told they are ill. There is also the issue of “over-diagnosis” which would cause a lot of patient anxiety.