Internet giant Google has announced it will extend its online trawling operations beyond the world wide web to include searching the body for cancer and other diseases.
According to an announcement from the company's research laboratory arm, called Google X, a nano-particle-based body inspection system is under development. According to Andrew Conrad, who heads the life sciences team at the Google X research lab, getting a medical from a doctor at the moment is like flying a helicopter over Paris once a year and then making claims about the social and cultural life of the city. "You find out about those things much better by having a conversation with the people on the ground."
Hence Google's aim to develop a nanoparticle swarm system that can be administered in a pill or injection. The surfaces of the particles, each are individually so small that millions would fit inside a grain of sand, would be coated in chemicals capable of interrogating the cells and tissues they interact with for signs of cancer, or blood vessel damage that might signal an imminent stroke or heart attack.
Encountering a specific molecule would change the structure of these chemicals in a readable way. Periodically, once their inspection job is done, the particles and the "data" they're carrying could be "downloaded" by luring them magnetically to one part of the body and then using light of a certain wavelength to read off the chemical structure, effectively reporting on the encounters the particles have had around the body.
The result could even be a 24 hour continuous monitoring system for the body. "Every test you ever go to the doctor for will be done through this system," Conrad predicted at a conference in the US where the projected was unveiled this week. According to other industry commentators, however, the sort of platform is still likely to be at least five years away. Google themselves don't yet know how many particles they would need to have in circulation inside a patient, and other scientists have cautioned that the regulatory bar for a system like this is certain to be much higher than other more routine diagnostics.
And the data that is collected? Surprisingly Google, who have at least 100 employees working on the project which also has an undisclosed price tag attached, say that they won't be collecting that but are instead aiming to license out the technology to third parties. So they will be involved in the search, but they won't be indexing what they find inside your body...