Google’s Newest X Project, a Sensor-Laden Pill That Hunts For Cancer

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For a company whose founder once famously stated that “health is just so heavily regulated. It’s just a painful business to be in,” Google has been spending an impressive amount of time in the digital health headlines recently. In the last two weeks alone, the internet search giant launched the fitness tracking app that connects to its Google Fit activity tracker,  piloted a program where instant virtual visits were offered within its search results listings when users searched symptom-like key words, and then just this week, Google’s recently acquired startup DeepMind announced that it has developed a computer that retrieves data from physical memory by mimicking the short-term memory behaviors of the human brain.

Now, after an already aggressive two weeks in the headlines, Google is back in the news after unveiling its latest X Labs project, a pill that will be packed with millions of nanoparticles so small that as many as 2,000 could fit in a single red blood cell. These nanoparticles are designed to disperse throughout the blood stream, each one coated in different antibodies that will help the nanoparticle hunt for cancer cells, ideally detecting problems in the earliest stages when doctors have the best prognosis. Once ingested, the nanoparticles remain in the blood stream indefinitely, hunting for cancer and transmitting concerning findings to a wrist-worn health sensor.

Project lead Andrew Conrad, PhD explains that often primary care is unable to catch cancer early enough to cure the patient. The goal of this project is to deliver a permanent cancer screening tool that is “simple and automatic and not invasive.” The team working on the project includes experts from across a wide variety of fields. Oncologists and other doctors, as well as electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, and even an astrophysicist who is helping create technology that will be used to track each of the millions of nanoparticles as they travel throughout the body. Prior to leading the life sciences division within Google’s X Labs, Conrad invented a cheap HIV test using similar nanoparticle technology that is now widely utilized.

Though its more than enough reason to move forward with its research, Google is looking beyond just cancer screenings for its nanoparticle project.  X labs researchers say that nanoparticles could potentially be configured to hunt for fatty plaques, often the cause of heart attacks and strokes. Other nanoparticles could constantly monitor blood chemistry, communicating any concerning changes and providing a more in depth window into daily health monitoring.

Like its glucose-monitoring contact lenses, Google does not intend to monetize the technology, if it even proves to be successful, by marketing directly to doctors or patients. The company will look to third-party pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers to license the technology for inclusion in their own diagnostic products, and then take a final product to market on their own.


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