Google claims to be developing a pill that can detect cancer in a person’s body. The pill is also said to be able to identify a heart attack. How does it work?

The BBC reports on Google’s latest invention. The mechanism Google will use is a wristband that would carry out noninvasive blood tests.

The experts at Google are striving to diagnose cancers, impending heart attacks and/or strokes and other diseases, at a much earlier point of time than is currently possible.

Google is working on technology that puts together disease-detecting nanoparticles, which would go into a patient's bloodstream via a swallowed pill, along with a wrist-worn sensor.

What is the purpose?

Google hopes to be able to identify little changes in the person's biochemistry that could act as an early warning system. How can this be helpful? “Early diagnosis is the key to treating disease. Many cancers, such as pancreatic, are detected only after they have become untreatable and fatal,” according to Google.

How can you tell the difference between different cancers?

There are major differences between cancerous and healthy tissues in the body. Google's goal is to constantly monitor the blood for the unique traces of cancer, allowing diagnosis way before any physical symptoms are displayed. The study is being conducted by the search company's research unit, Google X. This branch is devoted to investigating potentially revolutionary innovations.

This new development marks the firm's newest shift into the medical sector following its work on glucose-measuring contact lenses for patients with diabetes and the addition of a start-up that produced a spoon to counteract the tremors caused by Parkinson's disease.

Who is conducting the research?

Dr. Conrad is leading the main project. He is a molecular biologist who previously created an inexpensive HIV test that has become widely used. “What we are trying to do is change medicine from reactive and transactional to proactive and preventative. Doctor-patient relationships are pretty privileged and would not involve Google in any way,” Dr. Conrad told the BBC.

What do nanoparticles do?

The BBC explains, “Nanoparticles... give you the ability to explore the body at a molecular and cellular level. Google is designing a suite of nanoparticles, which are intended to match markers for different conditions.”

What is Google doing?

Google is designing a suite of nanoparticles, which are supposed to match markers for different conditions. These nanoparticles could be tailored to stick to a cancerous cell or a fragment of cancerous DNA. On the other hand they could find evidence of fatty plaques about to break free from the lining of blood vessels. These can inspire a heart attack or stroke if they halt the flow of blood.

The BBC said,

“High levels of potassium are linked to kidney disease. Google believes it will be possible to construct porous nanoparticles that alter colour as potassium passes through. Dr. Conrad said, ‘Then [you can] recall those 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’.”

How will the nanoparticles move?

Unattached nanoparticles would move uniquely in a magnetic field from those stuck around a cancer cell. In theory, this new software could then give a diagnosis by studying their movements.

The BBC reports,

“As part of the project, the researchers have also explored ways of using magnetism to concentrate the nanoparticles temporarily in a single area. The tech company'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.”

Many experts are excited about this new invention. Prof Paul Workman, chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research in London, told the BBC News website: "In principle this is great. Any newcomers with new ideas are welcome in the field. There is an urgent need for this. If we can detect cancer or other diseases earlier, then we can intervene with either lifestyle changes or treatment." He is doing similar research where his team at the institute is investigating cancer cells and cancer DNA in the blood as new ways of diagnosis and planning treatment.

CBS news also reported on the new innovation. CBS called this Google X’s most ambitious project so far. “Dr. Conrad described a pill that contains microscopic nanoparticles, a thousand times smaller than a red blood cell, which can travel through the bloodstream and search for malignant cells,” according to CBS. Experts hope to have this in technology in play as soon as possible.

Gerry Oginski
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