Google's Baseline Study to Index Whole Human Body

Contributing Writer

Credit: Lightspring. Credit: Lightspring. What does a healthy human body look like? Google's latest publicly disclosed research project aims to find out. The findings may help Google and other tech companies develop better fitness trackers and other wearable devices, and maybe even cure diseases such as cancer and heart disease. The project aims to identify "biomarkers," genetic indicators for certain diseases and conditions. 

As reported by The Wall Street Journal, Google's so-called Baseline Study aims to amass a database of human genetic and molecular information, starting with 175 volunteers and likely expanding beyond that. It's run by Google X, Google's experimental research lab famous for undertaking projects such as a self-driving car.

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The Baseline Study participants were selected by an unnamed clinical testing firm this summer, and initial data on their bodily fluids was collected. The participants' genomes will be sequenced as well.

Moving forward, all Participants in Baseline Study will wear a number of wearable devices to gather biological data, such as a "smart contact lens" developed by Google X  that can track glucose levels. Google X's Life Sciences group is also working on other wearable devices to collect other data, such as participants' heart rates and blood oxygen levels.

Google isn't the first to have the idea for a massive database of human biological data. The Human Genome Project, for example, completed a map of the entire human genome in 2003. But Google doesn't just want to gather data; it also wants to run extensive analysis on the data in order to find patterns and correlations.

This will help Baseline Study identify biomarkers, indicators that a person is at high risk for certain diseases later in life. Identifying biomarkers could help doctors prescribe preventative methods to keep those diseases from ever setting in to begin with. 

The data collected, as well as the devices developed to collect it, might also help Google and other companies develop better fitness technology. Just last month Google announced Google Fit, a platform for centralizing health data from a number of fitness trackers and sensors. Earlier in June Apple announced HealthKit, an app that serves a similar purpose.

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It's likely that the Baseline Study will eventually cross over with Calico, a company Google created in 2013 for the purpose of finding ways to extend human life. Google hasn't ruled out the possibility of entering the health care sector, either.

"We shouldn't put a slash through our mission statement and say that health care is excluded," Baseline Study project leader Dr. Andrew Conrad told the WSJ. Conrad, who joined Google X in 2013, previously helped develop an HIV test for blood-plasma donations.

Naturally, a project with this kind of scope has attracted some serious privacy concerns.

To assuage those fears, the participants in Baseline Study will all be anonymous. Further, Google says that the information collected in Project Baseline will be controlled by special boards formed by the medical schools at Duke University and Stanford University.

Jill Scharr is a staff writer at Tom's Guide. Follow her at @JillScharr and on Google+. Follow us @TomsGuide, on Facebook and on Google+.