Project Baseline: Google’s quest to collect medical data, shape human health

Project Baseline: Google’s quest to collect medical data, shape human health
If you have any interest in technology, particularly mobile technology and social networking, you have undoubtedly noticed a significant uptick in features and accessories that relate to personal health.

Whether it is a simple heart rate monitor, or pedometer on a smartphone or some type of wearable, or a big initiative to bring the big view of personal heath down to a personal level, the fact is, basic health (be it care or maintenance), is going to be big business.

This business is not just about money, even though there is a heap of cash to be made from such endeavors (the healthcare sector will reach a value of about $10 trillion in the next few years), it is about the reality of where mankind is headed, especially in developed markets, populations trending older and living longer, and gaining weight.

Cue Google’s latest moonshot, Project Baseline, also known as the Baseline Study.  It will collect anonymous genetic and molecular information. The initial test bed will be a small sample, just 175 people. The study will eventually grow to a sample spanning thousands of people. The goal is simple: paint a picture of what a healthy human being should be.

Dr. Andrew Conrad, a molecular biologist, joined Google X and will head up the project. He has assembled a team of about 100 people covering fields of physiology, biochemistry, optics, and imaging to look mass amounts of data that will hopefully assist the medical community detect and treat major health problems, from diabetes to heart disease.

The participants will also wear a newly developed contact lens, embedded with microelectronics which will be able to monitor glucose levels on an almost continuous basis.

As the sample of people grows, trends can be identified with the help of Google’s gargantuan computing capacity to identify “biomarkers” which help to prevent major health problems in individuals from developing. For example, some markers may indicate groups of people that can or cannot break down certain types of food efficiently. Other markers may raise a red flag for heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.

By the time Google receives this data, all of it will be anonymous, and the data will not be shared with insurance companies. Dr. Conrad urges that any advances made as the study progresses will be made in increments. Project Baseline will also be monitored by institutional review boards.  Duke University and Stanford University will control how the information is used.

Knowing Google, and the trend we are witnessing in technology, whatever comes from Project Baseline, eventually this will become something that we, as general consumers, will interact with as normally as we use our smartphones and smartwatches today. In some way, shape, or form, that data will play a role in identifying macro-level trends that will steer the course of medicine and healthcare.



source: The Wall Street Journal

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