As part of Project Baseline, Google will use its massive computing power to analyze medical information collected from thousands of healthy individuals, in an effort to find early signs of diseases such as cancer and heart problems.
Baseline is a product of Google X, the company’s secretive moonshot factory, and is led by Dr. Andrew Conrad, a molecular biologist who joined Google in March 2013.
The goal of the project is to gain as much medical information as possible about the healthy human body, and to use that information to identify biomarkers that could signal the onset of diseases in the future.
Identifying biomarkers early on could bring huge advancements in medicine
One example that Conrad offered in a profile in the Wall Street Journal is the biomarker for the ability to break down fatty foods without amassing cholesterol, which is a big factor in heart diseases. Identifying this biomarker would allow doctors to find treatments and prevention methods that would let people with a predisposition to heart diseases live a longer, healthier life. But that’s just scratching the surface – from cancer, to diabetes, to Alzheimer’s disease, identifying biomarkers early on could bring huge advancements in medicine.
In the first phase of Baseline, Google, through partners, has collected comprehensive medical data from 175 volunteers. The anonymized data includes the participants’ full genomes, captured from bodily fluids and tissue samples, as well as genetic information about their parents, and the results of a battery of tests.
But there is more – a Life Sciences group inside Google X is currently developing wearable devices that monitor things like heart rates and blood oxygen levels, which Baseline participants will wear continuously. Another monitoring tool will be Google’s smart lens contacts, which can measure glucose levels from the fluid on the eye’s surface.
In the future, Google will collaborate with Duke University and Stanford University to extend Baseline to thousands of participants.
All the data collected through Baseline will be combed through using Google’s massive computing resources. In the past, Google has used its data centers and advanced deep learning software to improve search results and voice recognition. Now Baseline will take a similar approach to medical sciences. In fact, Google sees Baseline like just another component of its mission to collect and organize the world’s information. “We shouldn’t put a slash through our mission statement and say that health care is excluded,” Conrad said.
Information obtained through Baseline will be completely anonymous and used for medical research only, said Google. Boards from the two partner universities will oversee how this data is used. Unlike other moonshot projects, Google has not admitted to a commercial goal for Project Baseline.
On a possibly related note, Larry Page recently stated that, if Google had access to medical data, it could “probably save 100,000 lives next year.”