TIME Research

Google Seeks Human Guinea Pigs for Health Project

Google's "Baseline Study" aims to get clear picture of human health

Updated: July 29, 10:05 am

Google’s newest project aims to create a crowd-sourced picture of human health by collecting anonymous genetic and molecular information from participants.

The project, called Baseline Study, will start off by collecting data from 175 people, but Google hopes to expand that sample size to thousands more, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The researchers hope the project can help move medicine towards prevention over treatment by giving scientists a more accurate picture of what a healthy body looks like, which can help them detect ailments like heart disease and cancer much quicker.

The lead researcher, Dr. Andrew Conrad, said that part of detecting disease is getting a clear picture of how a healthy body works. “We are just asking the question: If we really wanted to be proactive, what would we need to know?” he told the WSJ, which originally reported on this project. “You need to know what the fixed, well-running thing should look like.”

The project will collect hundreds of samples, and then find “biomarkers,” or patterns, within the data. Scientists hope these biomarkers will help them detect disease much sooner, or tell them which kinds of biological conditions make someone a likely candidate for high cholesterol.

Google said that the information from Baseline would be both private and anonymous, would be used only for medical purposes, and wouldn’t be shared with insurance companies. Institutional review boards from Duke University and Stanford University will monitor the study to make sure the data isn’t being misused, Google said, and will only have access to the samples once they’ve already been stripped of identifying data, like names and social security numbers. The samples will be collected by independent testing companies.

But Google wants to collect a staggering amount of information about each of its anonymous human guinea pigs. They’re mapping each person’s entire genome, and their parents’, not to mention looking at how they metabolize food, and how their hearts beat, and their oxygen levels. Participants will even wear special smart contact lenses so Google can monitor their glucose levels.

The Baseline project is the latest endeavor of GoogleX, the arm of the company devoted to long-term, high-risk projects with potential for high reward.

[WSJ]

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