Using Google’s Search Engine Algorithms to Fight Cancer

Can Google inspire the healthcare industry? With the recent loss of Steve Jobs by pancreatic cancer and the need for better diagnostic tools to detect disease in its early phases, Google’s proprietary PageRank algorithm inspired a new way to determine cancer stage and treatment. Researchers from Dresden University of Technology in cooperation with biotech company RESprotect, designed a modified version of Google’s PageRank algorithm to rank about 20,000 proteins by their genetic relevance to the progression of pancreatic cancer. Their results were published in PLoS Computational Biology.

The approach works by finding cancer biomarkers, protein molecules produced by cancer cells, which can be used to detect early stages of cancer in body fluids or by directly extracting cancer tissues through a biopsy. Finding these biomarkers is difficult and time consuming. However, using Google’s Pagerank as a model, which ranks a web page based on how many hyperlinks are connected to it, the researchers came up with a new strategy. Proteins in a cell are connected through a network of physical and regulatory interactions, and this information was used to find the connection of specific proteins to assess the aggressiveness in pancreatic cancer. So far, seven proteins have been located that will help assess a patient’s cancer aggressiveness to guide clinicians on the decision of whether to use chemotherapy or not. The research still needs further validation to enter clinical trials, but the concept is promising and opens new frontiers in research methods for drug design.

Yes, Google’s algorithm served as an inspiration in the battle against cancer. Below is short video to show you how Google’s Science Fair is inspiring young innovators in their career to fight cancer.


Dresden University of Technology is the largest institute of higher education in Dresden, Germany. and member of TU9, a consortium of the nine leading German Institutes of Technology. RESprotect GmbH is a Dresden based, privately held Biotech company specialising in the development of drugs for the prevention and treatment of chemotherapeutic drug resistance and radiation therapy resistance. This work was a cooperation between the bioinformatics group of Prof. Dr. Michael Schroeder and the medical groups of Dr. Christian Pilarsky and Prof. Robert Grützmann.