As ambitions go, Google's ambition to cure death is pretty up there. Still, its latest moonshot project out of the secretive and experimental Google X division of the search giant could bring that goal at least one step closer.
The next step in Google's programme, according to the latest reports, is to develop tiny magnetic nanoparticles, which could be as small as one-thousandth the width of a red blood cell. That means one of these particles would be about the length of a mouse compared to the red blood cell's jumbo jet.
Once you've got your head around that, put this in your pipe and smoke it: the particles would cluster together to bind themselves to various molecules and identify them as trouble spots. The tiny particles would be controlled by some kind of wearable device that would monitor and track their position in the body.
This programme might seen miles off being a reality, but Google believes it could have the project on track (at least in some form) by 2020, which is only 5 years away.
The company is still working out how many nanoparticles are necessary to identify markers of common diseases. Cancer cells often express proteins or sugars not found on healthy cells; a nanoparticle with a coating that binds cancer-only cells could be a useful tool for diagnosing the disease.
Researchers also need to develop coatings for the particles that will let them bind to targeted cells. One idea is to deliver the nanoparticles via a pill that you could swallow.
This isn't a niche project being worked on by some crackpot in a darkened corner, either. Google has put upwards of 100 crack employees on the case.
"We're trying to stave off death by preventing disease," Andrew Conrad, the head of the company's life sciences division, said on stage at WSJD Live.
"Fundamentally, our foe is death. Our foe is unnecessary death. Because we have the technology to intervene, and we should expend more energy and effort on it."
So is this cool or creepy? Crackpot or a look into the future? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below, or stop by for a chat with the ITProPortal team and other readers on ITProPortal's tech talk live chat.