Google is developing a cancer and heart attack-detecting pill

Nov 3, 2014

Photograph: Visuals Unlimited, Inc./Dr. Stan/Getty Images/Visuals Unlimited

By Samuel Gibbs

Google is working on a nanoparticle pill that could identify cancers, heart attacks and other diseases before they become a problem.

The pill would contain magnetic particles approximately 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. These tiny particles will have antibodies or proteins attached to them that detect the presence of “biomarker” molecules inside the body that indicate diseases such as cancer or an imminent heart attack.

“Essentially the idea is simple; you just swallow a pill with the nano particles, which are decorated with antibodies or molecules that detect other molecules,” explained Andrew Conrad, head of life sciences inside the Google’s “moonshot” X research lab to WSJD Live conference in California Tuesday. “They course through your body and because the cores of these particles are magnetic, you can call them somewhere and ask them what they saw.”

‘Hey, what did you see?’

Conrad explained that the particles would be analogous to sending thousands of doctors down into the population of a large city to monitor what is going on with individuals, describing current medical techniques as having one doctor fly over the city it in a helicopter trying to see what’s causing issues with individual people.


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