Google X is developing a wearable for clinical research

By Jonah Comstock

1200x-1Google (specifically the life sciences team at Google X) is building a wearable health sensor for cardiac and activity tracking, but it isn't a Fitbit or Apple Watch competitor: Google's device is a clinical-grade sensor designed for investigational use.

"In brief, we’ll be starting to use it in clinical studies to see if/how a continuous stream of medical-grade measurements of biological signals (e.g. pulse, skin temp, activity levels) could be useful to physicians and researchers as they try to understand and intervene earlier in disease," a Google spokesperson told MobiHealthNews in an email. "This could give them insights that are currently only available sporadically -- e.g. via a diagnostic test, or when a patient is being observed in a clinical setting."

The wristworn sensor will measure pulse, activity level, and skin temperature continuously. It will also be able to take an ECG and pick up on environmental information like light and noise levels, which might indicate to investigators that a person isn't wearing the device or isn't leaving their house much. Google will investigate different research cases for the device, including sending it home with discharged patients at risk for readmission.

“Doctors have always looked for new ways to gain insight into the subtle biological patterns that could help earlier diagnosis or intervention in disease,” Andy Conrad, head of the life sciences team at Google, said in a statement. “Our hope is that this technology could unlock a new class of continuous, medical-grade information that makes it easier to understand these patterns and manage serious health conditions.”

Exactly how the device will send the data that it collects to users and/or their caretakers is a piece of the puzzle Google is still tinkering with.

"In testing, we’ve been syncing data collected from these devices through an online and mobile internet portal," a Google spokesperson told MobiHealthNews in an email. "The ability to securely store, analyze, and interpret the data from this device is as important as the technology itself. We’re developing the analysis techniques and software to make sure that the information is medically-relevant and useful for clinicians. As we continue to test the device, we’ll be working with our clinical partners to further refine the user interfaces and analytics that support the system."

Google is in the early stages of the project, which will work with a number of research partners and ongoing studies. This very likely includes the Google Baseline study, which, it was previously reported, will use wearable sensors created in-house at Google rather than already-available third-party devices.

Down the road, if the sensors turn out to be useful for research, Google might work with a partner to commercialize or scale the offering. The project is being led by Kobus Jooste, Director of Engineering and Russ Mirov, Principal Engineer, who was the lead engineer for Google’s first mobile devices.

The life sciences group at Google X is a research and development group that works on "moonshot" health technologies and then sometimes works with partners to commercialize them. The group is currently working on a glucose-sensing contact lens in partnership with Novartis subsidiary Alcon, a multiple sclerosis research project with Biogen, a "cancer sensing pill" powered by nanoparticles, and the Baseline Study, a major research project with Duke and Stanford. Lift Labs, the company that is developing smart eating utensils for people with Parkinson’s and essential tremor, has also been operating under the auspices of Google X life sciences since it was acquired last September.