In July 2014, Google announced Baseline Study, a Google[x] “moonshot” that involves collecting and analysing diagnostics from people to paint a picture of “what it means to be healthy.” While Baseline Study started as a limited pilot with Duke University and Stanford University in July 2014 with 175 participants, TechCrunch has learned that Google is now preparing for the next stage of the project: a bigger launch for later this year.
As part of that, the company has confirmed that it is testing something called the “Study Kit,” the first apps that are being used to collect data.
“We are in the early stages of designing the Baseline Study and are exploring ways to make it easy for participants to share their health information and habits with researchers on a routine basis,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “An app is one route we’re considering and some of our pilot participants are testing this early version.” From what we understand Study Kit is a working title and it may change.
The Study Kit apps actually first appeared around the end of March, but people were left guessing as to what they were.
Some believed they were Google’s answer to Apple’s ResearchKit open-source project, which lets medical nonprofits and other organizations set up research projects — say on asthma or Parkinson’s Disease. Consumers are then able to contribute data to the projects using their Apple devices — a reimagining of the research lab, in a sense.
In actuality, the bigger ambition for Google’s Baseline Study is at once more singular and more complex-sounding.
As it has been detailed so far by the company, Google and its partners are trying to identify a baseline of “healthy”, involving not just easily seen diagnostics like heart rate and weight but also more granular DNA sequencing.
Armed with this information, you can then start to notice how and when individuals start to deviate from “healthy”, so that we can tackle potential problems proactively rather than reactively. Or so the theory goes.
“It may sound counter-intuitive, but by studying health, we might someday be better able to understand disease,” Dr. Andrew Conrad of Google[x], who heads up Baseline Study, noted in a statement at the time of the launch last year. “This research could give us clues about how the human body stays healthy or becomes sick, which could in turn unlock insights into how diseases could be better detected or treated.”
Initially, data for the project was gathered by way of blood and urine samples from participants. The apps are essentially the second wave for how Baseline collects data.
As for the third, a feature in the WSJ notes that longer term, the plan is to use other wearable connected devices to provide data to Baseline, for example special ‘smart’ contact lenses that can monitor and transmit a person’s glucose levels.
Contact lenses were singled out as one example of a wearable that would find its way to Baseline in the WSJ article. However, with Novartis, the company behind the contact lenses, yet to commercialise them, apps for collecting data have yet to be made.
Regardless of the wearables timeline, from what we understand, the aim is to launch a more open version of the Baseline Study later this year.
Similar to the now-defunct Google Glass Explorer program, future iterations of the Baseline Study could see the company opening up the project to early adopters who want to take part in the study; as well as potentially other institutions that might get involved beyond Stanford and Duke.
One thing that is pretty clear is that even — or perhaps especially — at this early stage, Google wants to stay well away from the implication that Baseline is connected to the company’s wider business interests in search, advertising, mobile, connected home products, Internet access, payments and whatever else its product and research teams think of next.
Google points out in a two-page description on the study that the intention is to make “a contribution to science; it’s not intended to generate a new product at Google.” That’s in part to assuage pretty obvious concerns from people that Google may be collecting data about us that may potentially get used for commercial purposes.
On top of that, Baseline will also be overseen by independent boards, that will vet how data is used, and assure that it remains anonymous and solely for Baseline research.
Thanks to Kyle at Pillab for the initial spot of the Study Kit Chrome extension.