Google aims to paint a picture of a perfectly healthy human being

Google X, the company's special research division, is nowadays busy working hard on an ambitious project called the Baseline Study. Led by the 50-year old molecular biologist Andrew Conrad, the project is still in early stages though it looks promising, to say the least.

Anonymous genetic and molecular data are being collected from 175 people (expanding to thousands more later on) to help gain a better understanding of what a perfectly healthy human should look like. The team consists of 70 to 100 experts, picked by Dr. Conrad and they come from different backgrounds including physiology, biochemistry, molecular biology, imaging and optics. 

The broader aim of the project is to find information about killer diseases like cancer and heart diseases along with an ability to detect them earlier. The ultimate goal is to help prevent these diseases before they strike, rather than treating them after they do. Google will be helping the project with its vast amount of computing power to find "biomarkers", the patterns which are crucial for prevention purposes, buried in deep in the data. Dr. Conrad gave an example of a simple biomarker to the Wall Street Journal:

The study may, for instance, reveal a biomarker that helps some people break down fatty foods efficiently, helping them live a long time without high cholesterol and heart disease. Others may lack this trait and succumb to early heart attacks. Once Baseline has identified the biomarker, researchers could check if other people lack it and help them modify their behavior or develop a new treatment to help them break down fatty foods better, Dr. Conrad said.

Biomarkers that researchers have knowledge on have been mainly detected in the late stages of illnesses, due to the fact that prior studies focused on sick people. In this perspective, Baseline Study and the collected data will be able to offer a lot in terms of preventing deadly diseases. Although Google claims the data collected will not be shared with third parties, doubts have surfaced. The data obtained from those people are simply priceless for insurance companies, but Dr. Conrad insists that Google will not be allowed "free rein" with the collected data.

The study started with a clinical testing firm and will continue later in partnership with Stanford and Duke medical schools. An exam that will include collection of bodily fluids will be carried out and a contact lens that will measure glucose levels will be worn by the patients.

Time will tell what the Baseline Study will reveal, but Google hopes to make a huge impact on healthcare.

Source: WSJ | Vitruvian man - nervous system image via Shutterstock

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20 Comments

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"ambitious project"? I wonder why the human figure is not facing forward but off towards the left. "Ambitious project" "aims to paint a picture of a perfectly healthy human being" but the human figure is facing in the wrong direction... very annoying flaw...

You guys do realize that the image up there is a take on Leonardo da Vinci's vitruvian man taken from Shutterstock for this article, right? :p

A definition of perfectly healthy precludes that existing technology isn't sufficiently advanced to find the microscopic things wrong. It should also mean that the person gets sick often enough to strengthen their immune system. The "perfectly healthy" person may be under the age of 27 which is when most people's bones stop growing (source: my old college Physiology book) but still have optimum vitality, have test results that are considered ideal, and consume whatever the researchers decide is needed to continue to be "perfectly healthy".

This is such a stupid idea.

The thing is, there are many body types, like muscular, big boned, some with enlarged lungs(non-disease), etc. that you simply cannot generalize that all humans are the same inside, and therefore can achieve that "body" Google is trying to figure out.

It's not a body, it's finding biomarkers that would be found to be directly related to a specific disease.

Eg. there's some people that will get fat with the same amount of food and exercise than others who don't. If you find the biomarkers that make the difference then you could identify them and stablish an appropiate diet even before that person begins to get chubby.

If that could be applied to more serious problems like heart deseases (identifying markers that under equal conditions give an individual more chances of obstruction of coronary arteries) then it could be actually useful.

Then again they might find nothing, but if they are willing to spend their money and time on that then go for it, why not.

"Big boned"? The only time I've heard of that is when overweight people go online (I won't name the specific website) and talk about how their doctor "fat-shames" them.

Paint a picture of the perfectly healthy human being? I already have a large collection of pictures of her . . .

Edited by DConnell, Jul 25 2014, 2:51pm :

do they not have something to do with their money? Dumbest project ever. Who cares whos the perfect body, most people are fat anyway and dont care about it, despite all the warnings.

It seems to be about finding markers that can be used to diagnose a potential illness before it strikes. If it works I wouldn't call that dumb.

Now, if you got that info and decided to do nothing about it then that'd be your problem.

I'm sorry but these days there is no such thing as a perfectly healthy human. No matter how many people you include.

My mother who's 50 now found out she has cancer last month but she never drank, never smoked. If a disease wants you it will get you. It will hide for a while aswell.

These days foods are packed with so many unnecessary things you don't need it's not even funny. How many of you can even stand pure cow milk anymore? Very little I guess. Your organs just can't handle it thanks to the crap they call "milk" that they sell in the store which is only good for draining you toilet.

alwaysonacoffebreak said,
I'm sorry but these days there is no such thing as a perfectly healthy human. No matter how many people you include.

My mother who's 50 now found out she has cancer last month but she never drank, never smoked. If a disease wants you it will get you. It will hide for a while aswell.

These days foods are packed with so many unnecessary things you don't need it's not even funny. How many of you can even stand pure cow milk anymore? Very little I guess. Your organs just can't handle it thanks to the crap they call "milk" that they sell in the store which is only good for draining you toilet.


Hope your Mom gets better.

Sorry to hear about your Mom, my Mom was the same way, she pulled through, heres hoping yours does as well.

About the milk, we are the only species in the world that drinks another species breast milk. We probably shouldn't even be drinking it, after all it is made for calfs not humans.

These days foods are packed with so many unnecessary things you don't need it's not even funny.

You do realize that even if you were perfectly healthy, and you ate nothing but 100% organically grown food that you still have a chance of getting cancer right?

Every single person will get cancer at some point in their life, the ones who don't just die before the cancer is detected. Sure the modern lifestyle has increased that risk, but that risk is and always has been present.

But I hope your mum gets better soon, cancer does suck.

-Razorfold said,

You do realize that even if you were perfectly healthy, and you ate nothing but 100% organically grown food that you still have a chance of getting cancer right?

Every single person will get cancer at some point in their life, the ones who don't just die before the cancer is detected. Sure the modern lifestyle has increased that risk, but that risk is and always has been present.

But I hope your mum gets better soon, cancer does suck.


I did read somewhere that we are born with cancer cells in our bodies. Lying dormant, just waiting for something to wake it up. Those somethings can be booze, cigs,fats,sugars,etc.

xrobwx said,

I did read somewhere that we are born with cancer cells in our bodies. Lying dormant, just waiting for something to wake it up. Those somethings can be booze, cigs,fats,sugars,etc.

Not sure about that but your body does get a ton of cells that could become cancer as you age. Normally your bodys defenses catch and destroy it, sometimes it doesn't.

But basically every year older you get, your chances of getting cancer goes up.