Will you say ‘No’ to nano? The future of biological technology.

A new age in medical technology - via Flickr CC 2.0
We are entering a new age in medical technology. Image via Flickr CC 2.0

Google[x] is a pretty mysterious research facility in California. It’s where they created Google Glass, and where they are working on driverless cars. I imagine it to be kind of like the James Bond lab. Eccentric genius’s cooking up insanely brilliant new inventions. One of their newest ideas has been released from their Life Sciences department as an early cancer detector, and it completely sounds like it’s come straight from science fiction.

H+ : A YouTube Series

A few months ago, I started watching this YouTube sci-fi show called H+ : The Digital Series. Each episode is about 3 minutes long, and they are highly addictive. If you’re into sci-fi stuff, you should definitely check it out, I highly recommend it.

Anyway, the series is set in the future. A company called H+ has created a tiny chip that you get injected into your body. Originally, it is used as an health innovation. Heralding a new age in disease detection, the H+ monitors your vital signs and supposedly gives you the earliest possible detection for anything that may be wrong with your health.

As this is a science fiction show, things of course don’t quite go to plan. These chips eventually, after many upgrades, make it so that everybody is networked together, in a new kind of internet. It’s all very futuristic. Unfortunately for the characters of H+, what was once a beacon of medical triumph, is used in a sort of cyber terrorism when a virus is loaded onto the H+ network.

So what are Google[x] up to?

Fortunately for us, Google[x] don’t (seem to) have any nefarious plans that can lead to some apocalyptic age of technology. Last Tuesday, at the Wall Street Journal Technology Conference, Google released information on some of their new health plans. Andrew Conrad, the Head of Life Sciences at Google[x] introduced us to a type of nanoparticle which they have developed, which could change the entire medical game. This very, *very* tiny particle is said to be the “nexus of biology and engineering”. So small in fact that they are said to have “millions of them fit within a grain of sand”. The plan is to coat a pill with a bucketload of these particles, so that a patient can easily just swallow them. The nanoparticles will spread throughout your body, attaching themselves to different molecules and cells.

Nanoparticles are a billionth of a meter in size, and certainly can't be seen with the naked eye. Image via Flickr CC 2.0
Nanoparticles are a billionth of a meter, and certainly can’t be seen with the naked eye. Image via Flickr CC 2.0

The nanoparticles are magnetised. This means that if a magnet is placed against the person’s skin, the nanoparticles will become trapped in a certain point on your body. Andrew Conrad explains that when they become trapped like this, doctors will be able to read certain information from the particles.

“These little particles go out and mingle with the people, we call them back to one place and we ask them ‘Hey, what did you see? Did you find cancer? Did you see something that looks like a fragile plaque for a heart attack? Did you see too much sodium?”

Rather than waiting too late for more visible signs of disease within patients, with a tool like this we could actively search for health issues. Check out Andrew Conrad’s video on the Wall Street Journal website.

What’s next then?

This technology is still a few years away from being released, but I think it’s pretty darn exciting. Still, there are concerns about who will house the data collected from the particles. It must be a high priority of Google to keep the medical information collected extremely private, so they have said they don’t want to have access to it themselves.

So, in just a few short years, will you be popping the Google pill?