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Dr. Google: How search engine giant is advancing medical technology

Google is more than just a search engine these days. Between cellphones, computers and finally medical technology, Google is making huge leaps. One of the biggest examples is Google’s move toward using nanoparticles to help diagnose health problems.

What are nanoparticles?

Nanoparticles are so small that they can fit inside cells. The particles are programmable, so they can perform a variety of different functions, depending on their intended use. Some forward thinking medical professionals even believe that nanoparticles can take the place of surgery or complicated medical procedures. The nanoparticles, when properly programmed, might be able to monitor blood glucose, predict heart attacks, or even detect or fight cancer.

Google’s partnerships in healthcare

Google is a juggernaut in terms of technology anyway, but they’ve formed partnerships with medical companies that can help them to put this type of project together. Novartis, a leader in diabetes testing and research, recently partnered with Google to license a contact lens that can monitor blood sugar levels and transmit that data to a tracking application. Google has also purchased parts of Calico, a company focused on anti-aging research. A third company, 23andMe, specializes in personal genetic testing. With partners in all of these different areas of the healthcare industry, Google is in a unique position.

How Google’s nanoparticles idea works

The idea Google is developing under the direction of Dr. Andrew Conrad of the Google X research division, involves giving patients a capsule filled with magnetic nanoparticles. Once swallowed, the nanoparticles circulate through the patient’s body and go about the work with which they’ve been programmed. The nanoparticles then transmit information to a Google-developed wearable diagnostic device that would collect and chart the data.

Some ways that the nanoparticles could be used involves attaching to cancerous cells or even changing color when they encounter cancerous cells. The nanoparticles could also be programmed to change color when they measure specific quantities of specific chemicals in the body. For example, patients who need to monitor potassium levels could have the nanoparticles measure these levels. Diabetic patients could measure the amounts of blood glucose or insulin within their bloodstream.

Once a specific condition is detected or measured by the nanoparticles, their magnetic properties can come into play and allow the medical professionals to pinpoint the specific affected locations in the body. Nanoparticles would also be programmed to respond differently to specific stimuli, further helping to render a diagnosis. After the nanoparticles transmit the information to the wearable device on the patient, that information can be downloaded or transmitted to the medical professionals for further evaluation. Once the nanoparticles have served their purpose, they can be deactivated and the body flushes them out on its own.

What this means in the medical community

For patients, this could be the answer to their prayers. Months of grueling diagnostic testing could be replaced by a few days of nanoparticles monitoring their body’s responses. Some opponents have already raised concerns about misdiagnosis via machine or false positives or negatives being reported to the diagnostic devices. In such a case, opponents argue that the wrong treatments could be applied or patients could become upset about a diagnosis that is later proven to be incorrect. The truth is that such a diagnostic tool would be used as a starting point only. It would never be considered the first and only line of defense for patients. A patient’s advocate should always be, first and foremost, his or her doctor, and the doctor should always follow up on any information retrieved through any means of diagnosis.

In all, the idea of using nanoparticles as a new type of diagnostic tool is exciting and full of promise. The experts at Google claim that if the project proves to be feasible in real life, the tools could be available as soon as five years from now. This may seem like a long time to patients who would benefit from this type of technology now, but it’s a short period of time in the world of medical testing. Once the nanoparticle diagnostic tool is officially available, it’s exciting to see where the technology can go from here. We may eventually be able to use this technology in the future to not only test for specific diseases and ailments, but also to treat them without using invasive treatment options.

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