Duke's partnership with Project Baseline aims to pinpoint early signs of disease

Many clinical research studies involve mostly sick adults, but Project Baseline aims to study mostly healthy individuals instead—and Duke is part of the initiative. 

A collaboration between Duke, Stanford University, Verily Life Sciences and Google, the project aims to collect thorough health data from 10,000 people of different ages, backgrounds and medical histories to better understand how diseases develop, and how to detect and prevent them. Duke enrolled its first participant in the study in June 2017.

Duke has an interdisciplinary team of more than 40 people—experts in medicine, science, technology, engineering and design—working to make the first initiative of Project Baseline a success in North Carolina. The state branch of the project plans to enroll about 1,000 participants at two different locations, including the Duke University Medical Center and at the North Carolina Research Complex in Kannapolis. 

So far, the study has already enrolled more than 2,000 volunteers over all participating locations, according to the New York Times.

By collecting data on human health, Project Baseline aims to empower doctors to better understand how healthy people become sick and, as a result, be able to improve techniques for early disease detection, according to its website.

One of the largest current problems in medicine is that, by the time a disease is detected, it has already taken form or spread. A goal for Project Baseline is that it will result in new tools to identify markers in the blood, stool or urine of healthy people that could predict diseases like cancer.  

Anyone who is accepted as a volunteer—any English or Spanish speaker over 18 without an allergy to nickel or metal jewelry is eligible to apply—will travel to a local Project Baseline site at least once per year. The volunteers will then be put through a battery of tests once per year when they visit their site, where they will answer detailed questionnaires, undergo tests such as chest X-rays and eye exams, take a blood test and more.

"We are selecting a sample of people with diverse ages, ethnicities, geographic locations, health histories and other demographic and medical information using an algorithm," the website says. 

Volunteers are also responsible for the daily use of several devices to track various aspects of their health. These include an investigational health wristwatch and a sleep sensor. They will also be given a small hub that will send the data collected to a secure, encrypted database. Other data in this study—such as the volunteer’s unique history and genetics and lifestyle—is collected through in-person interviews and the volunteer's use of the Baseline app.

Those involved work alongside the researchers for four years and provide additional information through surveys and health diaries. The researchers will then use data analytics and machine learning to understand the data and be able to apply it to health care.

Although Project Baseline's website says that researchers plan to make some information available to the participants, it also advises the volunteers to take it with a grain of salt.

"However, please note that research is not the same as medical care," the website says. "You should not expect to get medical care or advice. If you have questions regarding your data, we encourage you to share it with your primary care or other doctor." 

Correction: This article previously stated that Verily Life Sciences was a subsidiary of Google, and was corrected Friday afternoon as they are both subsidiaries of the same parent company. This article was also updated to reflect that the genetic and unique history information that is collected for the study is done through means other than the wearable devices—such as interviews and the Baseline app. The Chronicle regrets the errors.

Editor's note: The article was updated Friday afternoon to clarify that Baseline is a clinical research study.


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