Google's Verily to Not Only Tackle Diabetes, But Zika as Well

Google's Verily to Not Only Tackle Diabetes, But Zika as Well October 13, 2016
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO -- Verily, Google ’s life sciences division, is taking an aim at eliminating the threat of the mosquito-borne Zika virus by figuring out how to prevent the pesky pests from reproducing, endgadget reported this morning.

Verily has plans to unleash large populations of male mosquitos that have been altered into undisclosed areas where the bugs are active. The theoretical mosquitos would be genetically altered to pass along a gene into offspring that essentially kills them off. Or, endgadget said, another idea of Verily’s is to infect the bugs with the bacteria Wolbachia, so that it prevents the males from properly fertilizing female mosquito eggs. Technology Review noted the second idea seems to have more support at Verily, as the technique is already being practices by the Kentucky company, Mosquito Mate, in Los Angeles.

The sterilization form of control has been used before to great effect. Technology Review noted it’s been successful in driving the screwworm, a pest that harms cattle, out of the United States.

Verily is the first of Google’s many “moon shot” companies to stand alone under its new Alphabet umbrella. The company is focused on developing various technologies to disrupt the healthcare industry and advance personalized medicine, including a wearable contact lens that will read glucose levels in diabetic patients. One aspect of the lens, which is being developed in conjunction with Novartis , would be an LED light system that would light up to warn the wearer when glucose levels were too high or low.

Verily has not yet gone out and released swarms of these altered mosquitos. Linus Upson, Verily’s vice president of engineering, said the company will have to talk with and have the support of any community in which it attempts this project, according to Technology Review.

Verily told Technology Review it can sterilize mosquitos quickly and has automated ways to separate males and females. The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne disease that causes mild flu-like symptoms in most people. In pregnant women, it may be linked to an increased rate of microencephaly, a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by a smaller-than-normal head and brain size. Life expectancy for individuals with microencephaly is reduced and the prognosis for normal brain function is poor. The virus may also be linked to an uncommon autoimmune disorder of the nervous system called Guillain-Barré syndrome. With no available vaccine or treatment modalities, the World Health Organization declared Zika virus an international public health emergency.

Several companies, including the Bay Area’s Vaxart Inc., are working on developing a vaccine for the Zika virus. Vaxart has initiated preclinical testing of an oral vaccine for Zika virus.

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