Google X is in the process of developing a pill which could aid in the detection of cancer and other diseases.
The pill is filled with tiny iron-oxide nanoparticles, which enter the bloodstream and are able to identify cancer tumour cells that emit biochemical signals when the disease is contracted. The mechanism it uses is to ‘paint’ those cells which are infected as it goes through the body.
As the nanoparticles are magnetic, a device can be worn on the wrist which creates a magnetic field that draws the particles and the target cells toward it, allowing them to be counted and detected.
The nanoparticles monitor and test the cells instead of delivering drugs.
The development of the device and pill are in its early stages and is at least five years from producing a product which will be approved for use by the medical profession. However, they state that they are targeting proactive detection, not reactive treatment.
The head of the Life Sciences team at Google X and molecular biologist, Dr Andrew Conrad, said their dream is for this system to be used for every test you require your doctor for.
The team has already started work on smart contact lenses which will measure the glucose in the tears of patients suffering from diabetes, as well as special eating utensils for use by those suffering MS or Parkinson’s.
Critics may well be concerned about the privacy issues related to Google monitoring human cells.
According to Dr Conrad, the company will not collect or store any medical data, but will offer technology licensing to others who will be responsible for handling the information and storing it securely. He said they are inventing the technology and have no intention of monetising or commercialising it in that fashion.
He added that these items are not consumer devices, but prescriptive medical devices. This means that the doctor-patient relationships will remain privileged and confidential, and Google will play no role in this.
A spokesman for Google said their mission is to aid in moving health care from reactive to proactive. He said that it has been too long that we go to our doctor only when we have symptoms. Most of the complex systems in use today, such as aeroplanes and motor vehicles, offer preventive care and our bodies should be no different.
The spokesman added that the team includes experts in the fields of chemistry, biology, physics, computer science, electrical engineering, and more, who are focused on developing diagnostic tools for the healthcare industry, particularly smart devices which can easily be integrated into everyday life and transform the prevention, detection and management of diseases.
Image Credit: Steve Jurvetson