Human Guinea Pigs for Google Health Projects

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By Sarah Thomas | July 30, 2014 6:38 PM EST

A project called Baseline Study has been initiated by Google, for which it will amass anonymous genetic and molecular information from 175 participants to create a crowd-sourced picture of human health. Google is in the hope of expanding the size to a thousand more.

REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
A Google search page is reflected in sunglasses in this photo illustration taken in Brussels May 30, 2014.

This project will give scientists an accurate picture of what a healthy body looks like and can help medicine move from treatment to prevention. This would help detect ailments like cancer and heart disease much earlier.

The early stage project is run by Dr Andrew Conrad, a 50-year-old molecular biologist who pioneered cheap, high-volume tests for HIV in blood-plasma donations. He is also the lead researcher.

A clear picture of how a healthy body works is vital in detecting diseases, said Conrad. "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," he said.  

The project aims at collecting hundreds of samples and finding the pattern within the data called biomarkers. Biomarkers will help detect disease much sooner or tell scientists what biological condition makes a person prone to high cholesterol.

The Baseline Project is both private and anonymous and would be used exclusively for medical purposes. This data will not be shared with insurance companies. The study will be monitored by a board from Duke University and Stanford University. The board will make sure the data is not being misused. They will have access to the samples after it has been stripped off of identity data like names and social security numbers, said Google. Independent testing companies will be responsible in collecting the samples.

Google aims at collecting large information from each of the human guinea pigs. They will be mapping the person's entire genome, including their parents and even look at their oxygen levels, how they metabolise food and how their heart beats. Each participant will wear a special smart contact lens to monitor their glucose level.

This is the venture of Google X, the arm of the company devoted to the Baseline study which is a long-term project with high risk and high rewards. 

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(Photo: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir / )
A Google search page is reflected in sunglasses in this photo illustration taken in Brussels May 30, 2014.
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