Google to expand Baseline pilot, tests "Study Kit" app

By Jonah Comstock
11:15 am
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Study KitGoogle has begun to test the first app that will be used in the wider rollout of its Google Baseline study, called the Study Kit app, according to a new report from TechCrunch.

"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 Google spokesperson told MobiHealthNews in an email. "An app is one route we’re considering and some of our pilot participants are testing this early version."

Announced last year, the Google Baseline study will use a combination of genetic testing and digital health sensors to collect “baseline” data on healthy people. The idea is to establish genetic biomarkers relating to “how [patients] metabolize food, nutrients and drugs, how fast their hearts beat under stress and how chemical reactions change the behavior of their genes.”

The project was initially launched at two research institutions, Duke University and Stanford University, with a total of 175 participants. But TechCrunch is reporting that the small pilot will be followed up by a wider launch next year. While the small pilot collected data from participants in the form of blood and urine samples, an app will allow Google to collect more ongoing, self-reported lifestyle data. According to the short app store description, the application will allow users to "upload and view data from [their] Study Kit devices."

The original Wall Street Journal article announcing Google Baseline also made reference to devices; it said the sensors used in the study will be wearable devices developed in-house by Google. We noted at the time the oddity of Google building its own health sensors when there are so many well-regarded, FDA-cleared devices on the market

The Google Baseline study is intentionally separated from Google's commercial business, so it's not overly surprising that Study Kit is available as an iOS app as well as on Android phones and as a Google Chrome extension, but it is noteworthy. Study Kit is also quite similar in name to Apple's ResearchKit, which we compared to the Google Baseline study in a column back in March.

Stanford researcher Dr. Alan Yeung, who is working directly with ResearchKit but not with Google Baseline, told MobiHealthNews a few months ago that Google's project was one of depth whereas Apple's was one of breadth.

"[Google] is a very deep dive into a relatively small number of people — but very deep, the data is a lot. And then you look at the outcome and you’ll be able to know what happens to them over time," he said at the time. "The Apple approach, or our approach, is really to take a very large section of people — we were hoping for 100,000 people — and then be able to monitor a very large group of people, but the data is slightly dirty, because some people might not know how to use the phone. But because of the power of the number of people who are enrolled, you start to get good data out of there by sheer numbers.”

With Google expanding its pilot next year, maybe that distinction will no longer be so apt.

Update: Google clarified that they don't consider this offering "launched" since it is only available to a small number of participants in a pilot study, so our headline has been revised to reflect that.

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