By Kaitlyn Schaeffer

There’s a new project coming out of technological powerhouse Google. Dubbed Baseline, this innovative venture’s mission is to map out the paragon of human health.

The company will start by collecting genetic information from 175 volunteers for analysis; these initial findings will be bolstered by genetic information from several thousand others. The goal is to analyze this data for patterns, or biomarkers, that can be used to detect diseases earlier.

“We want to understand what it means to be healthy, down to the molecular and cellular level,” Google reported in a press release.

“It’s a perfectly reasonable approach, but I wouldn’t do it under the ‘what it means to be healthy’ mission statement,” said Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at the NYU Lagone Medical Center. “Those are fighting words. The mother of a child with Down’s Syndrome may consider her child perfectly healthy.”

Many other experts have also voiced concerns about Baseline’s methods and goals: the picture of health for a teenager differs from that of a senior citizen, and genetics are only one of many factors that comprise health. “Genes are about 15 to 40 percent, behavior patterns 30 to 40, socioeconomic factors 20 to 30, etc.,” said Dr. Kedar Mate, vice president of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

Google plans to account for these other variables by harnessing its singular ability to analyze massive amounts of data; the company will use their resources to “try to connect traditional clinical observations of health” (such as diet and behavior) with genetic information.

“What would make it really different is Google’s knowledge of so much of our behavior,” said Mate. “If Google could take all of that and combine it with genetic information – no other organization can offer us that.”

But such an exhaustive endeavor might be implausible even for Google. Whether or not Baseline will be successful in achieving their stated goals, Mate seems optimistic that Google’s entry into this arena, one thus far dominated by academics, will at least “bring a fresh and different perspective” and “stimulate the space…break it out of the way things have always been done.”

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