Alphabet starts collecting health info to better predict disease

Verily's study will use its health-tracking watch to spot early signs of illness.

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It didn't take long for Alphabet's Verily to get its watch-based health study off the ground. The life sciences company has launched its 4-year research initiative, Baseline, to potentially spot early signs of diseases before obvious symptoms appear. Verily's health-tracking Study Watch plays a central role, of course, as it will track everything from heart rate to ECGs to the skin's electrical conductivity. However, that's just one piece of the puzzle -- the team will look at numerous other factors to see where disease begins.

For one thing, Verily will sequence the genomes of all 10,000 subjects. That's no mean feat when it costs several thousand dollars per person, but it might help explain the genetic conditions that lead to certain illnesses. The firm also wants to analyze protein sets and the microscopic ecosystems inside the subjects' bodies. Participants will get results throughout the study, so they won't have to wait long to comb over their own data.

With that said, don't expect to hear about any insights for a while. Investigator Adrian Hernandez tells CNBC that it'll be "at least" 5 years before the knowledge from the study is useful to the public. Also, the research fields are still young enough that there's no guarantee they'll be useful to the healthier people in the study. In a sense, though, that's the point. Even if the information from healthy Baseline subjects doesn't turn up anything interesting, it'll tell scientists where to focus their research. And for Verily, this would tell it to shift its attention to its numerous other projects.

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