Google confirmed today that it is currently testing a health software suite it calls the "Study Kit," made up of Android and iOS apps, and a Chrome extension, in the pilot for its Baseline Study project, developed by Google's experimental Google X wing and first detailed last July. According to TechCrunch, the testing comes ahead of a wider launch for the project scheduled for later this year. Baseline Study, which began as a limited trial at Stanford and Duke Universities, will take medical data from thousands of individuals to build a picture of ideal human health.
Google wants to define a healthy human
The Study Kit software appears to have been in testing for several months now. The company quietly put out versions of Study Kit's iOS and Android apps at the end of March, at the same time as it offered a Study Kit Chrome extension, but it wasn't clear at first what the software was for as the apps could not be accessed without an approved email address. Speaking to TechCrunch, a Google spokesperson said that the company was "in the early stages of designing the Baseline Study" and was "exploring ways to make it easy for participants to share their health information and habits with researchers on a routine basis." The apps, the spokesperson confirmed, were "one route" Google was testing with pilot participants of the Baseline Study program. If the apps are used in the wider Baseline Study program, then they will only be available to people who have enrolled in the program.
Google hopes that the information gleaned from the project will both help medical professionals diagnose and treat diseases such as cancer, and enable a shift toward preventing health issues, rather than trying to cure them. The first stages of the trial began last summer, and involved the collection of urine and tears from 175 participants. Study participants will also be subjected to more detailed diagnostics, having their weight and blood pressure measured, and their genetic and molecular data sequenced. In addition to apps, Google is reportedly considering using other tools to measure data, such as the glucose-measuring smart contact lenses also in development at Google X.
The company could also use wearables to harvest data from participants
There are similarities between Study Kit and Apple's ResearchKit, but Google's project is potentially more ambitious and far-reaching than the Cupertino company's effort. Where Apple's open-source project is focused on letting medical organizations set up research projects on specific topics that Apple users can contribute to, Google's study is out to define a perfectly healthy human — a mission that could have lasting implications on medical science.
If any organization has the reach to do such a thing, it's Google. With more than 1 billion Android users, Google is particularly well-placed to harvest health data from project participants from around the globe, and with monitoring apps on iOS and Chrome too, the company should be able to cut down on selection bias and get a scientifically significant sample. That is, if people don't mind signing up to be studied as part of the company's mission to find what characterizes a healthy person.