The Picture of Health

Diving Into Google’s Baseline Study

We know the “Quantified Self” movement is all about curating and analyzing data to get a better idea of personal health and wellness. But, do we have a strong enough sense for what “ideal” health looks like, so that our judgements of personal wellness are accurate and appropriate?

That’s a question Google aims to solve with its ongoing research project called the “Baseline Study,” which the tech giant says will combine anonymous health and genetic data from thousands of people to determine exactly what it means to be a healthy human.

The project is run out of the life sciences division of Google[x], the experimental lab that has cranked out innovative concepts like the Google driverless car, an Internet network powered by stratospheric balloons, and Google’s “Smart” contact lenses.

Like those initiatives, the Baseline Study is ambitious. It’s effectively trying to give doctors, researchers and scientists a baseline for ideal human health, against which future generations can judge wellness. By studying data right down to the genetic and molecular level, health care professionals will be able to know exactly when a patient starts to deviate from their ideal health, and proactively address illness or risk factors far sooner.

How will Google collect all this information? According to TechCrunch, the main tool has been “Study Kit,” an iOS, Android and Chrome app. So far, the app can only be accessed by the 175 participants in the pilot program being run by Duke University and Stanford University. But Google told TechCrunch that it plans to roll out a wider launch later this year.

The data collection process may also extend to other tools down the road, like those smart contact lenses which TechCrunch says are still in production, or other wearable devices.

Google wants to collect not only basic health data like glucose levels and heart rate, but also genetic and molecular information to provide researchers with incredible insight. A Wall Street Journal article on the project referred to the concept of “biomarkers” that flag health problems, like a specific genetic pattern that suggests a person might be predisposed to heart attacks.

While the whole project may seem like science-fiction, it actually represents the next logical evolution of health and wellness tracking. A lot of the commercial wearable devices and apps we rely on today have introduced society to the Quantified Self concept, but these tools aren’t always tracking the right information or doing so accurately.

There’s a whole world of personal health data out there that, if gathered and analyzed consistently, securely and with respect to individual privacy, can make a huge impact on our lifestyle choices and personal health. Whether you’re a fitness fanatic trying to get more value out of your workouts or just someone trying to live a healthier life, advanced tracking could make all the difference.

Google’s Baseline Study is an interesting step in that direction, and one that more tech companies should aim to follow.

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