On Monday, Google stunned some analysts with its announcement that it is forming a new holding company called Alphabet. “Alphabet is mostly a collection of companies,” Larry Page, CEO of Google said in a company blog post. “The largest of which, of course, is Google. This newer Google is a bit slimmed down, with the companies that are pretty far afield of our main Internet products contained in Alphabet instead.”
In his explanation of “far afield,” Page specifically referenced Google’s Life Sciences wing, as well as Calico, its biotech company. So what is Google working on? Here are four of Google’s particularly ambitious healthcare projects:
1. Researching cures for age-related diseases. The researchers from Google’s Calico team have partnered with several outside organizations to study the biology of aging and to develop potential interventions that will slow aging and counteract age-related diseases. Google’s Calico team is comprised of scientists from the fields of medicine, drug development, molecular biology and genetics.
2. Detecting and fighting cancer. In 2013, Google filed a patent for a wearable device that would target cancer cells by sending magnetic nanoparticles into a patient’s bloodstream. “The binding of the particles to the targets allows the targets to be selectively modified or destroyed by energy from outside the body such that the adverse health effects are reduced or eliminated,” the patent application says.
Last October, Google also announced it was working on development of a pill that it hopes will detect cancers and other diseases by sending magnetic nanoparticles into the bloodstream.
3. Shifting from treatment to prevention. Last summer, Google began an ambitious project to collect genetic and molecular information from anonymous donors to create a picture of what it means to be a healthy human. The ultimate goals of the project, known simply as “Baseline Study,” are much earlier detection of major health issues, such as heart disease and cancer, and a shift of focus from treatment to prevention.
"With any complex system, the notion has always been there to proactively address problems," Andrew Conrad, head of Google X’s Life Sciences team, told The Wall Street Journal. "That's not revolutionary. We are just asking the question: If we really wanted to be proactive, what would we need to know? You need to know what the fixed, well-running thing should look like."
4. Simplifying glucose monitoring. Early last year, Google unveiled a prototype of a contact lens that monitors glucose levels in tears. The lens uses a minuscule glucose sensor and a wireless transmitter to monitor blood sugar so that insulin doses can be adjusted accordingly. The lenses are not expected to be available to consumers for at least another four years.
On Tuesday, DexCom, Inc., a leader in continuous glucose monitoring, announced it had entered into an agreement with the Life Sciences team at Google to jointly develop a low-cost, disposable bandage-sized sensor that is connected to the cloud. The goal is to empower more people to control their diabetes by giving them real-time, actionable information.