How Google X plans to detect cancer and heart disease using nano-magnets
Biopsies and scans to detect cancer and heart disease could be a thing of the past, if Google X gets its way.
The research wing of Google is working on a project called the Nanoparticle Platform, which is looking to use magentised nanoparticles to “explore” a patient’s body and report back their discoveries.
Speaking at the Wall Street Journal’s WSJD Live conference, Google X’s head of life sciences, Andrew Conrad, said: “Nanoparticles are the nexus between biology and engineering so we can make [them] behave in ways that we want them to do.”
According to Conrad, a patient would swallow a pill containing the nanoparticles, which are in turn “decorated” with antibodies or similar molecules.
They would then course around the pateint’s body, giving a holistic view of everything that’s going on, from the chemical content of the blood to tissue changes.
“Because the cores of these particles are magnetic, you can call them somewhere. If you look at your wrist, you’ll see there are these superficial veins [and] just by putting a magnet there, you can trap them and you can ask them what they saw,” said Condrad.
Arterial plaques, which can be a precursor to heart attacks and strokes, cancer cells and high sodium levels are three examples of what the nanodevices may detect.
If Conrad’s team succeed, and the project is still in its early stages, it could lead to earlier diagnosis of potentially serious health conditions.
While Nanoparticle Platform may sound very exciting, and it’s known early-diagnosis is vital for a good outcome in all diseases, it may be the case that Google’s technology is running ahead of scientific knowledge.
As Ron Winslow, the WSJ’s health and science correspondent pointed out, what’s known about the human body, particularly at the molecular level, is limited.
While Google’s magnetised particles may be able to accurately report back what they had “seen”, making sense of that information and being able to act on it would be a huge challenge.
Additionally, getting approval from drug approval agencies like NICE may also be difficult, as it’s unclear how the particles would ultimately exit the body or how data would be transmitted securely.