Google Joins Samsung, Other Tech Titans, in Open Healthcare Race

by Ostatic Staff - Jul. 25, 2014

Will the next revolution in healthcare be built on open source collaboration and principles? There are increasing signs that it will be, and that the old model of scientists and doctors pursuing breakthroughs behind closed doors might be broken. Samsung, for example, has announced the Samsung Digital Health Initiative, which will be based on open hardware platforms and open software architecture. The initiative has several arms, and one surrounds an open healthcare platform called SAMI. Apple, too, announced its HealthKit at this year's Worldwide Developer Conference, although it remains to be seen how open that effort will be.

Now, Google has launched its Baseline Study project, an effort to define very precisely what a healthy human body is comprised of, in an effort to reveal hidden biomarkers and other discoveries that may prevent health problems. 

According to a Wall Street Journal report on Baseline Study:

"The early-stage project is run by Andrew Conrad, a 50-year-old molecular biologist who pioneered cheap, high-volume tests for HIV in blood-plasma donations."

"The project won't be restricted to specific diseases, and it will collect hundreds of different samples using a wide variety of new diagnostic tools. Then Google will use its massive computing power to find patterns, or "biomarkers," buried in the information. The hope is that these biomarkers can be used by medical researchers to detect any disease a lot earlier."

It's a novel idea. Most research focused on disease is steered toward sick people, not healthy ones. Baseline Study works on the theory that keeping people's biologicial profiles in line with healthy ones--at the detail level--could be a big step in disease prevention.

 Baseline Study will start small with 175 patients reportedly, but may expand into a large crowdsourced effort where Big Data tools help yield insights. Could Hadoop save your life? This project may answer that question. Google would also be smart to leverage the open source community in collecting, crowdsourcing and analyzing components of its new project.

Many people underestimated how big an impact Ray Kurzweil, Google's relatively new head of engineering, would have on the company. Kurzweil is a big proponent of radical life extension, and a big critic of today's healthcare research efforts and their questionable approaches. He is no doubt driving Baseline Study as it advances.

Meanwhile, Samsung has said that it is seeking the resources and innovation of open source developers, entrepreneurs and partner companies with its open healthcare initiative. Samsung's Simband is an open hardware reference design for wearable devices.

According to TIME:

"Simband is an 'investigational device' which will help it meld sensors and other electronics with software and services to create future digital health technology. And rather than being yet another proprietary device such as the company’s Gear smartwatches, Simband is an open platform which Samsung hopes other companies will embrace...It packs Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and sensors for measuring factors such as heart rate and oxygen level."

Samsung also announced SAMI, which stands for Samsung Multimodal Architecture Interaction. SAMI is a cloud-centric platform for capturing the data collected by wearable devices like the Simband. In the cloud, SAMI's health-related data could be delivered in real-time to users or to doctors.