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Google to take the surprise out of disease

The study, with 175 people, will eventually ramp up to include many more with the help of Stanford and Duke Universities.
Credit Google
Initially Google will study 175 people and then begin a much larger study with Duke and Stanford.

Researchers from Google X, Stanford and Duke plan to drill down to the most basic level of the human body. They want to determine what we look like when we're well, so doctors know sooner when we are becoming sick.

Here's how it will work initially:

  • Scientists will collect anonymous genetic and molecular information from 175 people.
  • Participants will wear a smart contact lens and other devices to capture heart rates, heart rhythms and oxygen levels.
  • The study will create a repository of tissue samples.
  • Google will analyze the results and design a larger study with Duke and Stanford.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports: This information will include participants' entire genomes, their parents' genetic history and other information like how they metabolize food, nutrients and drugs.
  • The information will be offered up to other researchers.

How could this help?

Something like a heart attack or cancer might seem sudden, but your body's chemistry has actually been changing for a long time. In what it's calling the Baseline Study," Google X says it, "hopes to come up with a way to detect changes earlier, as soon as a body starts to move away from a healthy chemistry. This could change how diseases are detected, treated or even prevented."

Dr. Sam Gambhir, chair of radiology at Stanford University School of Medicine and a researcher in the Baseline Study says says the key is interpreting the results. "What does it mean when a certain protein in your blood changes two years before you become ill? What does it mean when a certain compound measured in your breath changes a year before you come down with lung cancer?"

Why Google and why now?

Google says, "the research is intended as a contribution to science; it's not intended to generate a new product at Google." When the study is finished Google will make results available  to "qualified researchers" in health. It is possible to examine the body in this way thanks to new molecular measurement tools and large amounts of computing power.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.