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Posted: April 19, 2017

Google launches 10,000-person study to predict how and when people get sick

A scientist examining cells in a 96-well plate. These plates allow scientists to look at lots of cells at the same time and directly compare cells that have or have not been treated with a drug.
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
A scientist examining cells in a 96-well plate. These plates allow scientists to look at lots of cells at the same time and directly compare cells that have or have not been treated with a drug.

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By Fiza Pirani, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Verily Life Science — a Google life sciences company owned by Alphabet — is finally kicking off the massive study it first announced three years ago.

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In partnership with both Duke University School of Medicine and Stanford Medicine, the landmark study, part of its Project Baseline, aims to collect health data from 10,000 participants over the course of at least four years, the company announced in a news release Wednesday.

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Baseline’s official website describes the project as “a quest to collect comprehensive health data and use it as a map and compass, pointing the way to disease prevention.”

Using physical and biochemical traits of the study population, researchers hope to better understand how people get sick, when they get sick and identify any additional risk factors and biomarkers leading up to disease, including diseases related to both cardiovascular disease and cancer.

“The Project Baseline study is the first step on our journey to comprehensively map human health,” Verily Chief Medical Officer Jessica Mega said.

With the help of experts at Duke, Stanford and other collaborators, the project also seeks to develop new technologies to better access and understand health data, Mega said. 

Here’s how it works:

  • Over the next few months, Project Baseline will begin enrolling its 10,000 American adult participants at Duke and Stanford’s committed study sites.
  • Once a year for at least four years, at the study sites, researchers will record participants’ blood samples, genetic data, images from chest X-rays and from the electrocardiogram. Also assessed: tears, saliva, stool samples and a psychological assessment.
  • If participants are willing to share, researchers will also gather additional data including electronic health records, insurance claims, phone calls, texts, social media activity and more.
  • Participants will go home with a sleep sensor and wristwatch/health monitor and wear the watch during the day, wile placing the sleep sensor under their mattress at night. The sensor and watch will measure participants’ heart rate, sweat and steps — but he or she will only see the time when wearing it. 
  • Throughout the study, participants will receive compensation and perks, regular updates and early insights into discoveries, certain test results to share with their doctors and access to Baseline’s community, events.
  • After four years (or longer, if the participants are interested in continuing), researchers will use the health data from the annual visits and watch to understand how people progress from healthy to ill.

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Past studies that have focused on understanding patterns, causes and effects in a study population — at least in cardiovascular disease research — have seen huge strides, according to American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown.

While Verily has also been busy with other projects, such as developing smart contact lenses and reducing the use of glucose monitors for people with diabetes, Project Baseline is the company’s first serious public test.

“I hope that 20 years from now, 30, 50 years from now … people will say ‘wow this really led to a transformation of human health,’” Sam Gambhir, one of the study’s lead investigators, said.

More about Project Baseline here.


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