Verily, Stanford and Duke kick off Project Baseline study to develop broad reference of human health

By Heather Mack
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Alphabet-owned Verily has launched the Project Baseline Study, a collaborative effort with Stanford Medicine and Duke University School of Medicine to amass a large collection of broad phenotypic health data in hopes of developing a well-defined reference of human health.

Project Baseline aims to gather data from around 10,000 participants, each of whom will be followed for four years, and will use that data to develop a “baseline” map of human health as well as to gain insights about the transitions from health to disease. Data will come in a number of forms, including clinical, imaging, self-reported, behavioral, and that from sensors and biospecimen samples. The study’s data repository will be built on Google computing infrastructure and hosted on Google Cloud Platform.

A key player in the study is Verily’s recently debuted Study Watch. The health-tracking wearable was designed specifically to run observational and longitudinal studies, and Project Baseline will involve daily use of the device as well as a sleep sensor and a small, portable hub that will charge and securely send device data to central database. Participants will also provide data through repeat clinical visits and other sensors as well as interactive surveys and polls conducted over their smartphone, computer or phone calls.

“With recent advances at the intersection of science and technology, we have the opportunity to characterize human health with unprecedented depth and precision,” Verily’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jessica Mega, said in a statement. “The Project Baseline study is the first step on our journey to comprehensively map human health. Partnering with Duke, Stanford and our community of collaborators, we hope to create a dataset, tools and technologies that benefit the research ecosystem and humankind more broadly.”

Over the next few months, researchers will begin enrolling participants at several sites across Stanford and Duke. As the study gets underway, Project Baseline’s scientific executive committee will look for more possible study sites across the country. Along with all the biometric and physiological data, Project Baseline will also be focusing on participant engagement.

Given the size and scope of Project Baseline, there’s ample opportunity for further analysis beyond the initial research goals, so the de-identified data will be made available to qualified researchers who wish to do future exploratory studies. To start, Project Baseline will aim to get a handle on phenotypic diversity in a population and identify biomarkers of disease-related transitions, such as those related to cancer or cardiovascular disease.

“Currently, most of what we see as treating physicians are short snapshots in time of an individual and primarily after they are already ill. We are effectively missing a lot of valuable information years prior to illness,” Dr. Sanjiv Sam Gambhir, chair of radiology at Stanford and director of the Canary Center for Cancer Early Detection, said in a statement. “We’re dealing with illness in the absence of a well-defined reference of healthy biochemistry, and this underscores the criticality of what we hope to achieve here. By focusing on the health of a broad population, we can eventually have a meaningful impact on the well-being of patients around the world.”