Google desenvolve pulseira para detectar câncer

O Google está desenvolvendo tecnologia para diagnosticar câncer, ataques cardíacos e acidentes cardiovasculares iminentes, além de outras doenças, bem mais cedo do que é possível atualmente.

A empresa está trabalhando em um método que combina nanopartículas capazes de detectar doenças, que entrariam na corrente sanguínea do paciente através de uma pílula que seria engolida pelo paciente, com um sensor usado no pulso como um relógio.

A ideia é identificar até as mudanças mais sutis na bioquímica da pessoa que pudessem funcionar como um sistema de alerta.

O trabalho, no entanto, ainda está em estágio inicial.

Diagnóstico precoce é considerado a chave para tratar diversas doenças. Muitos tipos de câncer, como o pancreático, são detectados apenas depois que já se tornaram intratáveis e fatais.

Há diferenças bastante marcadas entre os tecidos cancerosos e os saudáveis. Por isso, a ambição do Google é monitorar constantemente o sangue para tentar encontrar traços de câncer, permitindo que o diagnóstico aconteça antes mesmo que os sintomas físicos apareçam.

O projeto está sendo conduzido pela unidade de pesquisa da empresa, a Google X, que se dedica a investigar inovações com o potencial de serem revolucionárias.

Ele marca o direcionamento recente da companhia para o setor de saúde, após um trabalho que desenvolveu lentes de contato que medem os níveis de glicose no sangue para pacientes com diabetes e a aquisição de uma start-up que desenvolveu uma colher que se contrapõe aos tremores causados pelo Mal de Parkinson.

O Google também comprou ações da Calico, uma empresa de pesquisa de anti-envelhecimento, e a 23andMe, que produz kits pessoais de testes genéticos.

Nanopartículas

O projeto de diagnóstico é liderado por Andrew Conrad, um biólogo molecular cujo principal trabalho anteriormente foi desenvolver um teste mais barato de HIV que se tornou popular.

“O que estamos tentando fazer é mudar a medicina de algo reativo para algo proativo e preventivo”, disse à BBC. “As nanopartículas nos dão a habilidade de explorar o corpo a nível molecular e celular.”

O Google está desenvolvendo um conjunto de nanopartículas que se conectam a marcadores biológicos para condições diferentes.

Elas podem, por exemplo, se conectar a uma célula cancerosa ou a um fragmento de DNA canceroso.

Outra possibilidade é que elas encontrem evidências de placas de gordura que estão a ponto de se libertar dos vasos sanguíneos. Eles podem causar um ataque cardíaco ou um derrame, se conseguirem interromper o fluxo de sangue.

Outro conjunto de nanopartículas poderia monitorar os níveis de substâncias químicas no sangue.

Altos níveis de potássio estão ligados a doenças nos rins. O Google acredita ser possível construir nanopartículas porosas que mudam de cor ao entrar em contato com o potássio no sangue.

“A partir daí você pode juntar essas nanopartículas em um único local – os vasos superficiais no pulso – porque elas são magnéticas. Em seguida, pode perguntar a elas o que elas detectaram”, explica Conrad.

Nanopartículas soltas se moveriam diferentemente em um campo magnético de outras, que estejam amontoadas em volta de uma célula cancerosa.

Em teoria, programas poderiam fazer diagnósticos estudando seus movimentos.

Como parte do projeto, os pesquisadores também exploraram maneiras de usar o magnetismo para concentrar as nanopartículas temporariamente em uma área específica.

O objetivo do Google é criar uma pulseira que consiga ler as nanopartículas usando ondas de luz e de rádio uma vez por dia ou mais.

O professor Paul Workman, diretor executivo do Instituto de Pesquisa sobre o Câncer, em Londres, disse à BBC que a ideia “é maravilhosa em princípio”.

Sua equipe investiga o uso de células e DNA canceroso no sangue como método de diagnóstico da doença.

‘Falso positivo’

Workman alertou, no entanto, que um diagnóstico instantâneo pode aumentar a ansiedade das pessoas e levar a tratamentos desnecessários.

Por isso, segundo ele, é preciso ter “muito cuidado e fazer análises rigorosas” antes que se possa popularizar este tipo de monitoramento sanguíneo.

O projeto foi divulgado agora porque a empresa de tecnologia está buscando parcerias, mas o Google terá que enfrentar a questão dos “falsos positivos” – quando pessoas saudáveis são diagnosticadas como doentes.

O editor de saúde da BBC, James Gallagher, lembra que o mesmo debate rodeia o teste de PSA para câncer de próstata, já que a presença da enzima PSA (usada como marcador do câncer) nos homens pode aumentar mesmo sem a doença.

Thinkstock
As partículoas poderiam encontrar evidências de placas de gordura que estão a ponto de se libertar dos vasos sanguíneos, algo que pode causar um ataque cardíaco

“Há ainda a questão no diagnóstico em excesso. Quantas pessoas realmente precisam de tratamento ao serem diagnosticadas? Há uma controvérsia sobre as mamografias, por exemplo: para cada vida salva, três mulheres se submetem a tratamentos invasivos por um câncer que não seria fatal”, diz Gallagher.

“Examinar o corpo em busca de doenças carrega em si muitos perigos. Se não for feito com cuidado, pode transformar todos nós em hipocondríacos.”

Alto risco

O projeto das nanopartículas é o mais recente dos chamados “tiros para a lua” da unidade de pesquisa Google X.

Outros trabalhos incluem a tentativa de criar carros sem motorista e o Projeto Loon, que pretende levar o acesso à internet para áreas remotas criando uma rede de balões atmosféricos.

Tais ideias tem potencial de lucro, mas há também um alto risco de fracasso. E o Google X admite que muitos de seus projetos foram abandonados antes de se tornarem públicos.

De acordo com o editor de tecnologia da BBC, Leo Kelion, o projeto sinaliza o esforço da empresa no campo de tecnologia de saúde, mesmo que nunca saia do papel.

“A empresa nega que queria criar um serviço de diagnóstico, mas as patentes que está registrando podem se provar lucrativas”, diz Kelion.

“E pode estar relacionado a isso o fato que de que o co-fundador da empresa e diretor do Google X, Sergey Brin, descobriu recentemente que uma mutação genética aumenta suas chances de desenvolver o Mal de Parkinson.”

Kelion lembra, no entanto, que o Google Flu Trends – um projeto que pretendia prever a propagação do vírus da gripe com base em buscas na Internet – foi considerado um fracasso por muitos depois que pesquisadores afirmaram que, na maior parte do período de teste, ele superestimou o número de casos.

No ano passado, agências reguladoras de saúde dos Estados Unidos também proibiram a empresa 23andMe, comprada pelo Google, de vender seus kits de testes genéticos.

Por outro lado, as “lentes de contato inteligentes” do Google para diabéticos parecem promissoras. Em julho, a empresa farmacêutica suíça Novartis firmou uma parceria para licenciar a tecnologia.

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137 thoughts to “Google desenvolve pulseira para detectar câncer”

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