Despite our ever-advancing medical technology, there’s still a lot we don’t know about how people develop some of the world’s top killers, including cancer and heart disease.
A new project from Alphabet’s life sciences division, Verily, is hoping to answer some of those questions with a study called Project Baseline, in collaboration with Duke University, Stanford and Google.
Verily announced today that it will look for 10,000 volunteers around the world to take part in the project, sharing personal medical information over the course of four years. The goal is to get a big-picture look at human health and track possible disease indicators over a long period of time, to help researchers understand what it looks like when someone goes from healthy to sick.
It’s a remarkable project for a private corporation to take on. This kind of large-scale health study is normally conducted by government-funded research organizations, but government support for scientific research has been lagging recently, potentially leading to an upswing in private projects like this one.
Project Baseline will collect health information including data gathered from Verily’s own Study Watch, a sensor-packed wearable that was designed to gather high-quality health data for scientific studies. The watch records metrics such as heart rate, electrodermal activity and inertial movements.
The project will also take in data gathered through a mobile app, such as evaluations of mood, along with data from medical tests – notably not including genetic tests.
All that data will be anonymized, stored in an encrypted database and shared with researchers who apply for permission to use it. That will include research institutions like Stanford and Duke, but could also include researchers at pharmaceutical companies and other private organizations.
Verily Chief Medical Officer Jessica Mega told The Verge that anyone who wanted to access the data would have to prove they would use it in line with Project Baseline’s goals, although the company doesn’t have details on how that process will work yet.
Verily also declined to say if they would consider charging fees to access the research, potentially profiting from it. That has become more common recently, with companies such as 23andme profiting from anonymized medical data.
Other health companies, such as Leroy Hood’s Arivale, allow customers to share their data for research and make it accessible to researchers free of charge. Arivale says more than 90 percent of customers choose to share data.
The study is now recruiting volunteers in the San Francisco area and in North Carolina, with plans to expand recruitment across the U.S. and, later, internationally. Volunteers can sign up at the Project Baseline website.