Google wants to establish what a fully healthy human looks like, in order to make it possible to detect diseases earlier than we currently can.
The Baseline Study project, described in a Wall Street Journal piece on Thursday, is being conducted by Sergey Brin’s Google X research wing – the same “moonshot” lot working on Glass, driverless cars, Loon connectivity balloons and so on. It will be led by molecular biologist Andrew Conrad, who joined Google X 16 months ago.
Dr. Conrad’s research expertise lies in the spotting of chronic viral illnesses — he was involved in the development of an automated HIV-screening device – and in figuring out the role genes play in cancer. According to the WSJ piece, he has gathered a multidisciplinary team numbering between 70 and 100.
The study has already begun. Working with a clinical testing firm as of this summer, the team has collected various bodily fluids from 175 participants, and it intends to collect tissue samples as well. More volunteers will be brought into the fold with the help of clinics run by Duke and Stanford universities, and boards run by those institutions will also have the final say on what can be done with the data.
All information is anonymized and it won’t be shared with insurance companies, nor will it be used for non-health-related purposes, the article said. Just as well – this data will include “participants’ entire genomes, their parents’ genetic history as well as information on how they metabolize food, nutrients and drugs, how fast their hearts beat under stress and how chemical reactions change the behavior of their genes.”
Google will use its enormous computing resources to crunch the data it gathers and look for biomarkers – measurable indicators that will help it create the baseline it’s looking for. There’s no focus on any particular condition; this is about what true health looks like.
What’s in it for Google? Apart from the altruistic goal of making it easier to prevent disease before having to treat it, it appears the Baseline Study will gel with the development of data-gathering wearable devices, including Google’s glucose-measuring contact lenses, which will be used in the study.