Google’s disease-detecting nanoparticle pill

Signal of change / Google’s disease-detecting nanoparticle pill

By Jessica Naylor / 20 Jan 2015

Google is in the process of developing a nanoparticle pill which could detect cancer and other diseases in the body. The project is being conducted by Google’s X laboratory, and is the third in a series of healthcare initiatives developed by the company. 

The pill would consist of magnetic iron oxide particles covered in an outside layer of antibodies and proteins. These would be able to detect biomarkers within the body, and highlight disease. The magnetic particles would be controlled by a wearable device which could bring them back to a certain point, allowing them to be analysed. The data collected would then be used by patients and their doctors. 


It is not yet known how many nanoparticles would be required for effective diagnosis, and a binding agent also needs to be developed to bind cells, making it possible to detect problems. There are also concerns that nanoparticles could be damaging for personal health and would need to be closely monitored. 


The concept was revealed at the Wall Street Journal Digital Conference by Andrew Conrad, Head of Life Sciences at Google. By making the information public, it is thought that Google is searching for partners to assist in developing the technology further, and to help in making the detection of wider issues, such as heart attacks, a possibility. 


Photo credit: fauxto_digit/Flickr 

So what?

The commercialisation of such a pill could facilitate early detection of disease, saving lives and minimising the personal and financial cost of treatment.


The development also reflects the extent of Google’s ambition in acquiring highly personal data, and raises questions about how this information will be stored and shared.


What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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