We like to write about Google on this blog because, whether an update on Google Glass or a stint into telemedicine, the company has done a lot of interesting health-related projects over the years. While many of these (like Google Health itself) have been discontinued, many are alive and thriving. Today we’ll talk about a few of our favorite ongoing Google health projects that you might not have heard about.

To put Google’s health efforts in context, it’s useful to understand the basic company structure. As of an August announcement, Google is being restructured as a subsidiary of Alphabet, a new collection of companies once part of Google but now distinct. The idea is that by separating out different industries – technology, life sciences, investment capital, research – Alphabet improves management structure for projects that aren’t really related.

Alphabet contains two primary health-related companies: Calico and Life Sciences, which are working on longevity research and innovative contact lenses, respectively. Some projects, like the glucose-sensing contact lens, started in Google X (now a separate company under Alphabet) but moved into Life Sciences when it took off.

As MobiHealthNews chronicles, Google health efforts over the years have gradually shifted the company’s focus from medical practitioner to researcher. That shift is reflected in these 5 Google health projects that might not be on your radar.


  1. Health functions of google search – You’ve probably used it, but you might not be aware that since 2009 Google has been updating its search engine to better support health related searches. This started with simple functions (like emergency numbers for things like poison control) and evolved through Google’s Knowledge Graph, the algorithm-generated answer box that sometimes appears at the top of search results. While no substitute for expert medical advice, Knowledge Graph now displays information gathered from medical websites that’s reviewed by a team of doctors from Google and the Mayo Clinic.
  2. Contact lens projects – Earlier this month, details were released about two smart contact lenses that Google Life Sciences has been developing. A patent application was just released for the glucose-sensing lens, a non-invasive means of measuring blood glucose for people with diabetes. The second contact lens, developed in partnership with Novartis, helps restore the eye’s natural autofocus for individuals with presbyopia. Novartis plans to test this lens in 2016.
  3. The Google Baseline Study – This study combines genetic testing and digital health sensors to collect baseline data about healthy people, with the basic goal of better understanding the human body. More specifically, the study is looking at how genetic biomarkers relate to a variety of normal body functions like metabolizing food and responding to stress. This study started more than a year ago, but they’re now piloting larger data collection through the Study Kit app.
  4. Cancer-scanning nanoparticle pill – Related to the Baseline Study, Google is developing a smart pill that can scan for cancer and report findings to a wearable device. Developed by a team that includes an oncologists, engineers, and an astrophysicists, the pill is packed with tiny magnetic particles that identify malignant cells in the bloodstream. Apparently the project is years, not decades, away from release, and the pill could also be used to detect early signs of heart disease and kidney disease.
  5. Google Genomics – Announced in March 2014, Google Genomics allows researchers to store genomic data in the cloud for just $25 a year. The motivation behind the service is that much of the value in human genome sequencing comes from analysis across huge datasets, and there could be enormous research potential in having data in “cancer genome clouds” available to scientists. Amazon and others are competing to develop similar projects.
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