'Google Pills' might sniff out cancer

Google is experimenting with tiny particles that can enter the human body and monitor cells for signs of disease, including cancer and heart disorders.

Google Pill: working on ways to detect cancer
Google Pill: working on ways to detect cancer

The company’s life sciences arm, housed within its Google X R&D unit, has developed different binding mechanisms that allow nanoparticles to attach themselves to cells and proteins in the bloodstream.

It could flag up anomalies that might indicate disease, possibly sending details to a smart bracelet worn on the patient’s wrist.

Dr Andrew Conrad, head of Google X Life Sciences, said the nanoparticles could be distributed via a pill that could detect different diseases, depending on their coating.

Conrad told Backchannel: "These nanoparticles are two thousand times smaller than a single red blood cell.

"They’re tiny. They’re so little that they can pass through parts of your body, they go through the blood, they go through your lymph system, they just walk around."

Nanoparticles are so little that they can pass through parts of your body, they go through the blood, they go through your lymph system, they just walk around

Conrad estimated the system could be up and running within the next decade and said the company had already developed several convincing proof-of-concepts.

The company would need to clear a number of regulatory and social hurdles before its system could be rolled out, however.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Google doesn’t plan to store medical data itself or provide diagnoses.

Instead, it would simply provide the nanoparticles, then leave the rest to its medical partners. Conrad likens the experiment to the Tricorder in Star Trek, a handheld box used by crew members to scan patients for diseases.

"We won’t do the shots—our partners will do the shots," he told Backchannel. "But we’re hoping to build the Tricorder."

Google earlier this year announced that it was working on smart contact lenses that could help diabetics monitor their blood sugar levels.