Google Reveals Health-Tracking WristbandCaroline Chen and Brian Womack
Google Inc.’s life sciences group has created a health-tracking wristband that could be used in clinical trials and drug tests, giving researchers or physicians minute-by-minute data on how patients are faring.
The experimental device, developed within the company’s Google X research division, can measure pulse, heart rhythm and skin temperature, and also environmental information like light exposure and noise levels. It won’t be marketed as a consumer device, said Andy Conrad, head of the life sciences team at Google.
“Our intended use is for this to become a medical device that’s prescribed to patients or used for clinical trials,” Conrad said in a telephone interview.
Doctors, researchers and drugmakers have long craved a way to continuously track patients’ vital signs outside of a lab. Yet creating a device that’s easy for patients to use, while also capturing rich, accurate data has been a challenge, said Kara Dennis, managing director of mobile health at Medidata, a New York-based firm that specializes in data analytics.
Google offers health-monitoring smartwatch features in its Android Wear software platform for consumers, through partners such as LG Electronics Inc. Apple Inc. and others also have smartwatches and devices with health features. Yet most existing consumer devices aren’t rigorous enough for research, said Conrad.
That’s where Google X may play a role. The laboratory was set up to tackle big projects with the potential for long-term payoffs, such as driverless cars, wind turbines and delivery drones. The life sciences division has already created an experimental contact lens that can read blood sugar levels in diabetics. Like the contact lens, the wristband gathers information continuously.
“Historically, doctors do everything -- patients just need to turn up at the trial site,” said Dennis. “Now, we’re asking patients to take on meaningful responsibility in gathering information.” Even asking little things of patients, like regularly charging a device, hurts data compliance, she said. An accurate, reliable wrist sensor could change that.
Conrad said he hopes that in the future, tools like Google’s wristband would be used by healthy people to catch early signs of disease. “I envision a day, in 20 or 30 years, where physicians give it to all patients,” said Conrad. “Prevention means all the time.”
Google will collaborate with academic researchers and drugmakers to test the wristband’s accuracy and seek regulatory clearance to use it in the U.S. and Europe, said Conrad. Trials to test the band will start over the summer, said Google spokeswoman Jacquelyn Miller. Google may also look for a manufacturing partner, Conrad said. For example, Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG’s Alcon unit has licensed and will commercialize the contact lens.
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