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April 21, 2017

Google’s Verily wants to become a prophet of human health

By GlobalData Healthcare

Google’s life-science arm, Verily, is initiating Project Baseline — a 10,000 person study to gain a better understanding of people’s predisposition to various illnesses.

Can we imagine a future where all of us would be receiving a medical treatment even before we get ill? Maybe it’s far-fetched, but it could be closer than we think.

In collaboration with Duke University and Stanford Medicine, Verily — which is formally controlled by Google’s parent company Alphabet — will be observing a large group of healthy people over at least four years, hoping to come up with disease prediction models.

The company will be using its proprietary technology, a sensor-based smartwatch designed to capture a huge volume of data.

Participants will be wearing this watch on a daily basis and will also have their whole genomes sequenced and various biospecimens taken. Their behaviour, including social media activity, will also be monitored.

Will it be difficult to recruit people for this enormous “Big Brother is Watching You” study? Probably not, as people will realise that most of us have already been part of that experiment over the past decade.

Google already possesses a huge amount of data on everyone, except on our molecular aspect.

The results from this study could reveal early warning signs for diseases – this would not only help earlier diagnosis but also bring deeper focus on disease prevention.

This is just an example of how big data is gaining momentum in the healthcare space. It is also one step forward towards personalised approach to treatment and prevention.

Defining specific clusters of population in terms of their risks for certain illnesses, based on a huge amount of physical, biochemical, and genomic data, will also open a new window of opportunities for drug developers to find novel therapies that would target causes of the disease before it develops.

The overall idea sounds promising, but the project will likely come with numerous challenges, as Mother Nature is often less predictable than we expect.