Take one molecular biologist, add a few physiology experts, combine with several biochemistry wizards and throw in some folk from the field of optics, and what do you have? Google’s latest moonshot project, apparently.
The company’s Google X team has reportedly embarked on what could be its most ambitious task to date: collecting a mass of genetic and molecular data to build a picture of what constitutes the perfect healthy human. Google Glass it ain’t.
Thousands of volunteers
Google’s “Baseline Study” will gather data from 175 volunteers with thousands more expected to become involved in the project over time, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
The man charged with taking on the monumental task of defining a healthy human is molecular biologist Andrew Conrad. To help him toward his goal, Conrad has assembled a team of around 100 experts from a range of scientific fields.
If the project proves successful, it could enable earlier detection of life-threatening diseases such as cancer, enabling medical researchers to focus more on prevention rather than cure, according to the Journal.
“With any complex system, the notion has always been there to proactively address problems,” Conrad said, noting “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,” the scientist said.
Google is hoping that by opening up its information processing expertise to medical researchers, Conrad and his team will be able to more easily discover patterns, or biomarkers, that could ultimately lead to diseases and illnesses being spotted at a much earlier stage.
Participants in the study have been assured that their names will never be linked to the collected data, with all material used solely for the purposes of the Baseline project.
Conrad and his team set to work a couple of months ago, collecting samples of bodily fluids from the first group of participants. As the study develops, Duke and Stanford medical schools will help incorporate many more volunteers into the research.
Sam Gambhir, a Stanford University medical expert who’s been working with the Baseline team from the start, understands that Conrad and his researchers are in it for the long haul.
“He gets that this is not a software project that will be done in one or two years,” Gambhir said. “We used to talk about curing cancer and doing this in a few years. We’ve learned to not say those things anymore.”
Growing interest in health
Google has already shown an interest in the health field, having recently developed a smart contact lens to help those with diabetes monitor glucose levels more efficiently. In fact, Conrad said it’s probable that this smart lens technology will be used by the study’s participants as part of the Baseline team’s research.