New Google Project Will Use Health Data for Earlier Disease Detection

July 26, 2014 in News

Google has launched a project that aims to identify patterns, or “biomarkers,” in the genetic and molecular data from 175 people, with such data being collected by a wide range of new diagnostic tools, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Project Details

The project, called the Baseline Study, launched this summer and is being conducted by Google X, the company’s research branch.

For the project, Google partnered with a clinical testing firm to enroll 175 individuals and collect data, including:

  • Bodily fluids such as blood, saliva, tears and urine; and
  • Tissue samples.

The project will later be expanded to include thousands of participants who will enroll at similar clinics run by medical schools at Duke University and Stanford University. Those projects will collect and de-identify participants’ information.

The Google X Life Sciences group also is developing wearable devices that will continuously collect other data from participants, such as:

  • Heart rates;
  • Heart rhythms; and
  • Oxygen levels.

Participants also will likely wear a contact lens designed to monitor glucose levels.

After data are collected and de-identified, Google will analyze it to identify hidden biomarkers that can be used by researchers to detect illnesses earlier and influence new treatments. 

For example, the project could identify a biomarker present in some individuals but not in others that breaks down fatty food efficiently, reducing the chances of high cholesterol and heart disease.

Overall, the project aims to create a unique picture of what a healthy human being should be.

Privacy Concerns

Although Google has noted that all data used by Baseline will be anonymous and restricted for medical and health purposes, the project raises significant privacy and fairness issues, the Journal reports.

To help address those issues, institutional review boards will monitor the project (Barr, Wall Street Journal, 7/24).

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