The transition from health to illness remains little understood, but it is a critical component of efforts to begin predicting and preventing disease, the goal of precision health.
The key to this “brave new world of human health,” said Jessica Mega, MD, chief medical officer of Verily Life Sciences at a recent talk on campus, is the convergence of engineering and medicine, which has made it possible to develop new tools and technologies to collect all sorts of data, organize this information and analyze and act on it.
Speaking at the Thomas J. Fogarty, MD Lecture, which was co-sponsored by the Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign and the Fogarty Institute for Innovation, Mega explained that this health-related data includes behaviors (such as activity levels and sleep patterns), biological measures (respiration rate, blood pressure), and molecular information (genes and expressed protein levels), among others. The problem, she explained, is that health care today is primarily delivered through intermittent provider visits that capture only a handful of those signals in discrete snapshots.
“There is so much information we don’t harness. And because of that, we often end up intervening too late,” she said.
Verily’s goal is to “figure out which signals matter, create the tools to surface them, and then turn them into meaningful insights that can make people healthier,” Mega said.
For example, Verily is pursuing Project Baseline, a study it is conducting with Stanford Medicine and the Duke University School of Medicine. Project Baseline seeks to understand the molecular basis of health and disease by collecting comprehensive biomedical data from as many as 10,000 diverse participants over a four-year period. By observing changes over time, the project aims to create a multidimensional “map of human health,” that will help providers better understand wellness, and identify early changes that presage the onset of disease.
Project Baseline is also striving to answer a key question that stymies many of the best efforts to improve health – how to motivate people to participate in their own health. “How do we share information and get people involved?” Mega asked. “The more we can understand and surface health insights and figure out what is going to get people excited about their own health, the better we are.”
While Mega is excited by the “problems we can solve today,” she said she is driven by the bigger picture of transforming care. Concluding her standing-room-only talk, she said, “Let’s keep our feet on the ground, but our head in the sky. Because there are still many people who are suffering with health ailments, and I feel it’s our obligation to take all of these tools — so many of which were born in Silicon Valley — and deploy them in a way that will help people live healthier lives.”
Previously: Project Baseline study enrolls 100th Stanford volunteer — additional participants needed, Project Baseline study to launch today and health++hackathon aimed for affordability, innovation
Photo by Stacey Paris McCutcheon