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Google to Scan Human Body for Inklings of Disease

With a new effort combining nanoparticles and a wrist-worn sensor, Google hopes to search through the human body for early signs of disease.

"What we are trying to do is change medicine from reactive and transactional to proactive and preventative," Andrew Conrad, who is leading the project at Google X, tells the BBC. "Nanoparticles … give you the ability to explore the body at a molecular and cellular level."

The company is developing iron-oxide particles that can be coated with antibodies so that they recognize and bind to proteins that are, for instance, found on the surfaces of tumor cells, the Wall Street Journal adds. Then as the nanoparticles are magnetically attracted to pass by the sensor, currently envisioned as part of wristband, it would pick up whether or not those nanoparticles have bound to a disease-related protein. The nanoparticles would enter the bloodstream by the user swallowing a pill.

Any product, the Journal says, is likely at least five years off. The nanoparticle-based bloodstream-scanning system would have to overcome technical and regulatory obstacles, as well as address privacy concerns. Additionally, the company would have to work out how to interpret the results it receives from the nanoparticles.

To address that last issue, Conrad's team at Google X is embarking on a study of healthy people to establish a baseline. "We need to know the healthy levels of these disease-carrying molecules in the blood," Conrad says, "and we don't know now."

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