The latest news from Verily
Introducing the Debug Project
Thursday, October 6, 2016
Mosquitoes kill more people than every other animal combined. The diseases they spread sicken hundreds of millions of people each year. Towards the end of 2014, some of us at Google started exploring what we could do to help solve the mosquito problem. Serendipitously, around that same time, Verily was founded (initially as Google Life Sciences) with the objective of solving hard problems in science and biology with the ultimate goal of preventing disease on a global scale. It was a perfect match.
We talked with experts from around the world working on many different approaches. One stood out to us: the
the sterile insect technique
(SIT). The idea is to release sterile insects to mate with wild ones. No offspring result from these matings. So if enough sterile insects are released, they can reduce, or even locally eliminate, the wild population.
The sterile insect technique was first developed in the 1950s to combat a livestock pest called the
New World screwworm
. Here in California, SIT is used to control
Mediterranean fruit fly
. Unlike chemical pesticides, sterile insects are exquisitely precise. Insects only mate with others of their own species.
There have been many attempts over the years to use SIT to control mosquitoes. One problem is that the traditional method of using radiation to sterilize insects doesn’t work well on mosquitoes. The radiation dose necessary to sterilize mosquitoes makes them bad at mating. Recently, new techniques have been developed including one using a naturally-occurring bacteria called
. This bacteria sterilizes mosquitoes, while preserving their ability to compete for mates in the wild.
Another problem is cost. For SIT to work, a lot of mosquitoes must be raised and released. A lot of male mosquitoes, specifically. Male and female mosquitoes feed on plant nectar, but only females bite and feed on blood. By releasing only males, which can’t bite, there aren’t more mosquitoes that can spread disease. Unfortunately, raising mosquitoes and separating the males from females is currently very labor intensive, making it too expensive to deploy at a large scale.
We decided to focus on the problem of reducing that cost with automation. We’re using Verily’s combination of data analytics, sensors, lab automation technology, and scientific expertise to solve specific issues around mass-production and sex-sorting of mosquitoes, and to enable efficient and targeted releases.
We also decided to focus on one particular mosquito: Aedes aegypti. While there are thousands of different species of mosquito, Aedes aegypti is the primary vector of dengue, Zika, chikungunya and yellow fever, and there aren’t good ways to control this mosquito.
The Debug Project is still early. We've built a team of mosquito biologists, software engineers and automation experts who are all passionate about solving the problem of mosquito borne diseases. We have promising prototypes of our automated rearing, sex separation, and release systems along with new designs for sensors and traps to measure mosquito populations.
We’re announcing Debug today because we’ll soon be ready to try these outside of our lab. We want to engage with local communities and government regulators to find the right places for field trials and ensure those trials are safe and effective.
To keep up on our team’s efforts, you can follow this blog or learn more at
Posted by Linus Upson, VP of Engineering
Congrats to One Brave Idea™ winner, Dr. Calum MacRae
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
On November 8th of last year, Verily and the American Heart Association (AHA) made a big
. Together, we would invest in one visionary approach focused on novel strategies to prevent and reverse coronary heart disease (CHD). I remember the date well because I was there and included in my
that I was joining Verily as Head of Cardiovascular Innovations.
Cardiovascular diseases are the largest cause of death globally, accounting for about one of every three deaths, with CHD the top underlying cause. In order to move the needle on this global problem, Verily, AHA, and now AstraZeneca have committed to
collectively invest $75 million
to this initiative, a transformative award directed towards an ambitious approach to CHD and its consequences.
The genesis of this award came from asking ourselves, “what does it mean to truly believe in and commit to a visionary idea?” We wanted to take a stand and invest in a leader, and to provide sustained support over several years to give the awarded team the resources and time to fully realize a bold vision. "One Brave Idea" officially launched and began accepting applications in January 2016. Our hope is that this initiative will catalyze other similar grants that move rapidly and provide durable funding.
Today, I am excited to congratulate the winner of One Brave Idea™: Dr. Calum MacRae, Chief of Cardiovascular Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and his broad multidisciplinary team. From reading the hundreds of applications to identifying the winner, it has been thrilling to participate in this selection process. We look forward to helping Dr. MacRae and his team, in concert with the AHA and AstraZeneca, accomplish this important mission.
Watch our YouTube Live Stream from today, featuring a roundtable discussion with Dr. McRae and representatives from the Joint Leadership Group of Verily, AHA, and AstraZeneca. To read more about Dr. MacRae and the winning idea, see our
. We're excited to see where this research can lead!
Posted by Mike McConnell, MD, MSEE, Head of Cardiovascular Health Innovations at Verily
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