Because health is a lifelong journey, longitudinal research that studies how it changes over time is critical. A recent publication in Nature Research's Digital Medicine Journal demonstrates how Project Baseline approaches some of the challenges involved with long-term, multi-dimensional studies in an innovative way.
A collaboration between Verily, Stanford Medicine, and the Duke Clinical Research Institute, Project Baseline Health Study (PBHS) follows thousands of participants over a four-year period to better understand health and disease. To achieve this, the Health Study brings genetic and molecular data together with imaging, exercise testing, electronic health records, sensors and wearables.
While many studies collect deep and complex molecular information, few combine many different types of data for a full view of health. The continuous nature of the data collection, and the sheer volume of data collected required a new way of organizing and activating the data.
Until more recently health data sets and analytical tools were siloed and were not sufficient to analyze the ever-growing volume of health information because of its complexity and scale. The Baseline platform — the technology that powers Project Baseline — was created to unite many sources of rich health data, to enable the Health Study’s goal of establishing a “baseline” definition of what it means to be healthy. Today, the platform is the technology backbone for a number of clinical research studies in areas like heart health, sleep apnea and depression. Most recently, the Baseline COVID-19 Research Project launched to advance the development of treatments, antibody testing, and vaccines.
Along with its emphasis on novel data, the Health Study is designed to include a broad range of people across the health spectrum. The study includes people who are in “exceptional” physical health by known standards, those at risk for disease, and those with a known disease diagnosis, in order to compare and understand their long-term outcomes. In particular, the study population includes people with a higher risk of breast cancer, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, and heart disease in approximately equal proportion. Researchers chose to focus on these areas because they are leading sources of mortality in the U.S. and around the world, and existing evidence suggests all benefit from early interventions. The Health Study hopes to identify measurable changes (known as biomarkers) that may give clinicians better signals around risk and early signs of disease, to support developing more preventive treatments.
The Health Study is intended to serve as a springboard and potential model for similar longitudinal efforts across disease areas and populations. Ultimately, such efforts may give us a deeper understanding of the transition to disease, enabling more preventive and personalized medicine.