Google is joining the quest to map the human body, except it’s not just tackling one part of the body, it’s going whole hog to find answers to questions scientists still have about the way the body works — and what defines a healthy person.
The new project out of Google X, called Baseline Study, will collect genetic and molecular data from 175 anonymous people in an attempt to piece together an exquisitely detailed picture of what makes up a healthy human being, reports the Wall Street Journal. Google’s researchers will be collecting a broad set of data from a range of people with varying levels of health. The project then relies on Google’s strong computing power to decode all the gathered information and reveal patterns or biomarkers.
For example, some people are more prone to osteoporosis than others. Knowing how individuals process and break down various nutrients could help doctors understand what makes someone less likely to develop brittle bones.
A lot of nonsense flies around via magazines and word of mouth about what healthy behavior is and how diet plays a roll — but a lot of that is guess work. Many unknowns still remain when it comes to the complex interactions between DNA, enzymes, and proteins and how environmental factors like food fit in.
Baseline is not the first body mapping project; plenty of others have come before. But existing studies tend to focus on a particular disease or part of the body. This is also not Google’s first dance with genetic research. The company is also working on a study called Calico that the media has dubbed its “anti-aging” study. That mysterious project was revealed last September and includes major genetic research players like Hal Barron, a former chief medical officer at Genentech.
Baseline is extremely broad in scope and Google wants to expand the study to include thousands of people — which raises questions about privacy.
Participants in the study are anonymous, and their data won’t be shared with insurance companies, according to the WSJ article. Rather, an institutional review board will preside over the human medical research data. As the study ramps up, medical boards at Duke University and Stanford University will determine how to use the information.
The study presents a serious opportunity to help develop better drugs and help people to be the healthiest versions of themselves — and, of course, to help doctors better understand the way the human body operates. But university institutions will have to be firm about patient confidentiality, lest Google tries to sell data to insurers down the road.
After all, plenty of major tech companies are also looking to get in on health care tech.