Google signs on Harvard doc to lead bioinformatics study

Jessica Mega, a physician and associate professor at Boston, MA-based Brigham and Women’s Hospital, joined Google’s Google X research arm to head up its Baseline study, which aims to collect a broad swath of information from hundreds of samples to find disease biomarkers and provide a comprehensive map of the human body, Forbes reports.  Researchers will use software algorithms and computing to sift through the data, allowing scientists to more easily access medical information and potentially identify diseases sooner.

The company is collecting genetic and molecular data from 175 individuals as part of its first small pilot phase and eventually plans to partner with Duke and Stanford medical schools for a larger study with thousands of participants, The Wall Street Journal reported at the time the study was unveiled.

Mega brings an extensive resume to the table, including time as a senior investigator with the TIMI Study Group, where she led clinical trials of Johnson & Johnson’s ($JNJ) blood thinner Xarelto.  And Mega’s experience leading trials could be exactly what Google needs to gain ground in precision medicine and generate new diagnostic insights.

“Dr. Mega has all the skills and temperament to lead this effort for Google, which will break new ground for precision medicine and complement the Precision Medicine Initiative,” Dr. Robert Califf, vice chancellor at Duke University’s School of Medicine and a researcher on the study, told Forbes.  “Her scientific knowledge, experience in clinical trials and positive personality are a great fit.”

Meanwhile, Google continues to forge ahead with new initiatives through its Google X arm.  The company teamed up with pharma giant Novartis last July to develop smart contact lenses for continuous glucose monitoring for diabetes patients.  In October, Google X revealed a project to design tiny magnetic particles that screen for cancer and other diseases.  The company plans to develop a wearable device with a magnet to attract and count the particles, providing a new monitoring tool for physicians.

“Every test you ever go to the doctor for will be done through this system,” Andrew Conrad, head of the Life Sciences team at the Google X research lab, told the WSJ at the time.  “That is our dream.”  But the company could face some technological challenges along the way, such as identifying coatings that help the particles bind to specific cells and creating a small, battery-friendly device that doesn’t need frequent recharging.

REFERENCE:  Fierce Medical Devices; 12 MAY 2015; Emily Wasserman

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