Google Inc. has recently unveiled its latest plan to expand further into health and medicine with an announcement that the company will be delving into nanotechnology with the goal of creating a nanoparticle, which will provide an early warning system for the detection of diseases within the human body. Using the nanoparticle, the company hopes to develop a way to detect cancer and the possibility of stroke or a heart attack, along with other life-threatening diseases, much sooner than is currently possible.
The nanoparticles, which would enter the bloodstream through pill form, would work in conjunction with a wrist detector, some kind of bracelet or arm-band. In this way, the nanoparticles in the bloodstream would constantly search the body for signs and symptoms, such as cancerous cells or higher and lower levels of chemicals within the blood that could later lead to disease. The nanoparticles would then bond with that particular cell, protein or disease molecule within the body. The particles would then be monitored by the wrist band as they moved through the bloodstream, raising the alarm as soon as any abnormalities were detected.
By using nanotechnology to provide the body with such an effective early warning system for disease, Google hopes to shift the balance of medicine from the reactive to the preemptive. The company has already committed a considerable amount of resources towards its development. There are currently over 100 employees already involved in the project, including astrophysicists, electrical engineers and chemists, which is being led by Dr. Andrew Conrad, the head of the Life Sciences branch at the Google X research laboratory.
Despite this, the completion of the technology and its subsequent approval by the relevant health authorities is still five to seven years away and may face much more stringent guidelines and social prejudice than any other approved diagnostic tool. There have already been some concerns raised about the project and the possible invasion of privacy. Google critics regularly comment on their belief that the global company already has too much information, and the idea of that same company being free to continuously monitor the human body would likely be met with even fiercer resistance.
Dr. Conrad sought to ease these fears, stating that the nanoparticle was not being designed as a consumer device, but a prescriptive device instead and that Google had no interest in collecting or storing medical data from its future patients. The technology would instead be licensed out to other companies better prepared to handle security and the storage of sensitive information. In this way the relationship between doctor and patient, even if the nanoparticles were in use, would not involve Google in any way.
Despite Google’s announcement, the project is still in its early stages, and Conrad admits that there is a very long way to go, such as determining just how many nanoparticles will be needed per body to provide an effective early warning system against disease. Researchers are also yet to identify how the particles will be coated in order to effectively join them to diseased cells, as well as how to design the accompanying wrist band, which will have to be small and subtle, but also contain a strong battery that does not need to be regularly recharged.
By Mathew Channer