Google has embarked on an ambitious new project; an attempt to build a database of what a healthy human being should be.
Dubbed Baseline Study, the project will kick off with researchers collecting anonymous genetic and molecular information from 175 people.
The study will then draw information from thousands more in a bid to create a picture of a person in perfect health.
It is hoped that the data collected will be used to help detect diseases, such as cancer and heart disease, much earlier than is currently possible.
Dr. Andrew Conrad, who joined Google X - the company’s research arm - in March, is running the project.
Best known for pioneering cheap, high-volume tests for HIV in blood-plasma donations, he hopes that the results will push medicine toward prevention rather then the treatment of illness.
Conrad has reportedly built a team of between 70 and 100 experts for the project, from medical fields including physiology, biochemistry, optics, imaging, and molecular biology.
Project Baseline will use Google's computational power to identify "biomarkers" in the data that could help people prevent health issues.
The study could, for instance, reveal a biomarker that helps some people break down fatty foods efficiently, in comparison to others who may lack this trait and suffer heart attacks later in life.
Once Baseline has identified the biomarker, researchers could help those who lack it by helping them modify their behavior or developing a new treatment to help them break down fatty foods better, Dr. Conrad says.
A project like this immediately raises the question of privacy, given that Google would know the structure of thousands of people's bodies, down to the molecules inside their cell.
The company states that the medical data it receives will be anonymous by the time it gets its hands on it, but we imagine that this will still upset some.
Dr. Conrad said Baseline participants will likely wear a smart contact lens that has already been developed by his team so their glucose levels can be monitored continuously for the study.
The Google X Life Sciences group is also developing more wearable devices that will continuously collect other data, such as heart rates, heart rhythms and oxygen levels, to further the study.