News Feature | July 28, 2014

Google's Newest Science Project: Defining Perfect Human Health

By Joel Lindsey


Google has launched a project focused on studying and analyzing the human body in greater detail than ever before by comprehensively cataloging genetic and molecular information. The ultimate goal of the project, which has been dubbed Baseline Study, is to map out a clear picture of what a perfectly healthy human body would look like.

“With any complex system, the notion has always been there to proactively address problems,” Andrew Conrad, a molecular biologist who has been hired to oversee Baseline Study, said in an article published recently by The Wall Street Journal. “That’s not revolutionary. We are just asking the question: If we really wanted to be proactive, what would we need to know? You need to know what the fixed, well-running thing should look like.”

According to the WSJ article, the project will be run out of Google’s experimental research and development department, Google X. Researchers involved with the project will begin by gathering genetic and molecular data from 175 anonymous participants. After gathering and analyzing this data, they plan to expand the project to include similar information from thousands of participants.

The ultimate goal is to gather massive amounts of data about the material composition and biological functions of the human body and then use Google’s computing capabilities to search for and identify any patterns or trends —referred to by researchers as biomarkers — that may be buried in the mountains of data.

Researchers hope that by unearthing new sets of biomarkers, Baseline Study may make it possible to understand the genetic and molecular makeup of a healthy human body well enough to begin developing entirely new, more proactive strategies for preventing diseases at significantly earlier stages.

“This research is intended as a contribution to science; it’s not intended to generate a new product at Google,” the company said in a statement it released to International Business Times. “That said, a study like this could unlock lots of ideas for future projects, not just at Google but across the health and technology industries. That’s why we plan to make the study and its underlying results available for qualified researchers in health to use for their own medical efforts.”

Google has said that as it begins the project, it will maintain stringent privacy and security standards to protect both the identities of participants and their detailed health information. To help in this effort, Baseline Study will be overseen by institutional review boards run by the medical schools at both Duke University and Stanford University, according to the WSJ.

Google began enrolling its first 175 participants this summer, and researchers plan to begin gathering data from samples of tissue, urine, blood, saliva, and tears sometime in the near future.

Image Credit: “Google.” Carlos Luna. © 2008 (CC by 2.0):